A while back, an acquaintance asked me if I was “still writing for that website,” by which she meant Mockingbird. The question was delivered with a smirk that I interpreted as vague condescension from someone I know to be more into DIY than grace. I assured her that I was, in fact, still writing for Mockingbird and would even be a speaker at their UPCOMING CONFERENCE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH (insert nail-polishing emoji), then walked away annoyed (not unusual) with this world’s inability to fall into grace when the law is so enticing.

Grace just gets so… repetitive, right?

I’ve had my run-ins with the law, religiously speaking, over the years. Any fellow ‘women’s Bible study’ survivors out there? Oh, and have I shown you my twenty-year-old purity ring? I’ve seen critical exegesis expended in favor of fill-it-in-with-your feelings workbooks and prayer requests replacing prayer itself. I’ve heard judgment where there should have been mercy, condemnation in place of welcoming arms. As someone recently said on Twitter and I now paraphrase here, people get angry when you take away their angry God. Why bother with grace, after all, when behavior modification is there with its allure of control and built-in hierarchy: them and us, with new villains to identify and habits to break?

Speaking of villains (I see you, Jafar!), let’s discuss Aladdin. And I’m not talking about your mother’s (my) 1990s animated Aladdin but the recent remake with Will Smith as the genie bent on desecrating the memory of Robin Williams. I kid — sorta. I took the kids to see it recently to expose them to a memory of my own childhood and, like, the best soundtrack ever. What followed was two hours of the Fresh Prince in blue body paint and my own confusion: Is this good? Is it awful? Do I care? Where’s the popcorn?

Since we saw the film, my boys have requested, respectively and on repeat, “Prince Ali” and “One Jump Ahead.” So there’s that, I guess. Mission accomplished? Except the soundtrack that punctuated my late adolescence (yes, I was a late bloomer; don’t judge) has, in my middle age, gotten old, man. My ability to hear the same tunes and words ad nauseam apparently dissipated some time ago, because whenever one of the boys asks for their particular song I want to scream, “You will listen to Maggie Rogers and YOU WILL LIKE IT!”

G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy: for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Oof. That’s certainly convicting. My children’s constant need for sameness — from everything from car music to hide-and-seek — stretches the limits of my patience further than they stretched my physical body during pregnancy. Repetition, essential as it is to learning and routine and childhood and parenting and life, can feel like a slow death some (all) days: the end of spontaneity and unexpectedness.

Then I remember that I kind of hate spontaneity. What’s more, I have my own repetitions: inside jokes that never get old; pre-dawn runs; the sunsets that I never stop photographing or pointing out to the kids; the liturgy.

Oh, the liturgy. I was first introduced to it as an adult who had once been a child ensconced in her own form of legalism consisting primarily of repeated sinners’ prayers. I wondered if rote repetition of age-old words would turn me off entirely. Then I found, in those ancient words, a space for the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. And the liturgy became a lifeline.

Leslie Jamison makes a case for repetition in her gorgeous memoir, The Recovering:

In recovery, I found a community that resisted what I’d always been told about stories — that they had to be unique — suggesting instead that a story was most useful when it wasn’t unique at all, when it understood itself as something that had been lived before and would live again. Our stories are valuable because of this redundancy, not despite it.

Later, she identifies the false intimacy I see so often in church/Bible study sessions — while simultaneously revealing what can make family and communal life so hard in all its realness:

I’d never thought of myself as someone with a fear of intimacy, because I loved talking about feelings — it seemed I was rarely doing anything else [ed. note — girl SAME]. But there were other kinds of intimacy I was scared of: tension, tedium, familiarity.

I am convinced it’s these moments of “tension, tedium, [and] familiarity” that both make up the bulk of life, and that we run from in order to seek a newness that is often self-generated and temporarily reviving but always ill-fated. I’m convinced that, were I to sit in these moments, without reaching for my phone or reciting another surface-level prayer request or trying to change my behavior instead of dealing with the grief underneath it, I would encounter the same thing every time: grace.

But this grace — that echoes through the halls of history from the uttering of “it is finished” on a hill, through the liturgy of the ancients, and to today — it can tell the same story over and over while not saying the same thing twice. It can fall upon new ears and hearts, and old alike, working a miracle each time. Singing a new song.

This is why we don’t age out of grace or its repetition. It’s why I’ll be writing for Mockingbird, thank you, forever, or until they file a restraining order against me. It’s how Mockingbird got its name, actually: “Hence the name “Mockingbird,” which refers to the curious characteristic of the bird itself: to repeat the message it has heard, over and over again.”

Like the man in Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” we can never use up grace or fail to find new angels in the architecture:

He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says, “Amen and Hallelujah!”

The gulf between beholden and beloved is eternal and cruciform, but we never stop trying to shorten its distance in our own efforts to master the Christian life. As if there’s any way to tame mystery, to mimic the recipe for manna or come up with a method of storage that preserves it past today. We are loved by a God who swallowed up the judgment of the Old Testament with the mercy of the New, who replaces wrath with promises, who provides even our “yes” to him by graciously placing it on feeble lips, the same lips that receive the bread and wine they didn’t buy, at a table their hands didn’t build. This is the message worth repeating: that because of what has been done, we are free. Free to be the beloved, for whom are hidden countless angels in the architecture.