Guest post Tuesday! As you know, we’ve been diving into the theme of #rituals this year, making space in our ordinary, everyday lives to notice the not-so-boring rituals that make the story deeper. And today’s writer, Laura, is no exception to noticing the deeper tales. Enjoy her words, and the blessing it brings not only to her house each night, but also to your life as well.
It started small. Maybe all rituals do.
Each night before bed—after bath and books, before songs and kisses—I’d sweep my finger across each boy’s forehead to smooth back their damp hair. Then with my thumb I’d trace two small lines on their brows—one down, one across —to make a tiny cross.
A simple blessing.
Sometimes I whispered a prayer, something short and sweet. Sometimes I was tired and gave only a quick kiss as I turned to go. Either way, it become our bedtime ritual.
I don’t know why I started years ago. No one taught me to do it. I’m a Christian, yes, and crosses are powerful symbols about death and life and love that rises.
But this instinct to reach out and touch my children’s heads in a more meaningful way? It went beyond religious ritual.
It was a yearning to encounter my children outside the everyday actions of cleaning, correcting, and comforting. It was born of a desire to slow down and look into their eyes. It was an intuition that ordinary touch becomes sacred when we make space for the holy between us.
And the most surprising thing about this simple ritual? How it slowly started spreading into other corners of our life together as family. How we began blessing each other at other times, too.
Once after I lost my temper in a furious scowl, I crouched down to ask forgiveness of my five year-old. Ignoring my words, he reached over and brushed aside my hair to smudge a clumsy cross onto my forehead with his marker-stained thumb. “Bless you, Mommy,” he said, scampering off to play.
Leaving me behind, kneeling on the floor, the trace of his fingers still warm on my face.
One night at dinnertime, our middle son refused to say grace with us. I leaned over and ask if I could bless him instead. Even with his brow furrowed and his small chin stuck out in defiance, he bent his head toward me just enough to let me reach him. A tiny cross. The rest of the meal went on in peace.
One afternoon after our third son was born, I gave into the constant pleas of “can I hold the baby?” and told the big boys to climb up on the couch to cradle their brother in their laps. As they gazed down at him, our oldest son reached over and traced a small cross on the baby’s head. In a sing-song voice, he added softly, “I bless you for God.”
I held my breath. Here was a ritual of welcome, one of those rare and holy moments between siblings. A blessing between boys who would (of course) come to shove and slap and pinch and punch each other on the bumpy road to becoming brothers. But who also knew, at the beginning, that they belonged to each other. And they belonged to something bigger than themselves.
Our practice of signing tiny crosses had sealed the deal.
Sometimes I confuse the practice of faith with excellence in faith. We need to do it all and do it right, or else everything will fall apart and fail.
But my small children and our smaller rituals are teaching me that the opposite is true. That perhaps what matters most is not getting the big things right, but getting the small things right.
As a parent, all I can hope to do is trace a tiny blessing on my children’s foreheads. Sweep aside their messy hair, wipe off the sweaty smudges, and bless their brows with the smallest sign of the One who calls them for love.
All I can do is offer traces of faith, over and over again, hoping the thin lines from my fumbling fingers will leave an imprint on their hearts. Trusting that any efforts I make are already swept up in the embrace of Love itself, the mystery in which we live and move and have our being.
So I’ll bless them again tonight. Our simple bedtime ritual.
I’ll trace a tiny cross for them tonight, and tomorrow, and all the nights after – until the night when they turn their heads away and tell me no, they’re too old for that now. That night I will close another chapter as I close their bedroom door behind me.
But still I will carry the same prayer with me: that they will know love and that they will carry love’s traces with them all life long.
One tiny touch at a time.
Laura Kelly Fanucci is a writer and mother of three boys. She is the author of Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting and the Research Associate for the Collegeville Institute Seminars. You can connect with Laura on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and on her blog, Mothering Spirit. Cara here: I mean, are you encouraged or what? I can’t wait to trace tiny crosses across foreheads this evening. Leave Laura some love below!