“Do dat again!” is often the joyous plea of my Ari, my four-year grandson. It may be in response to me catching him and giving him “an uggy kiss” or chasing him while singing, Teckla says, a wrong version of “Papa Shark.” A few days ago, Teckla and I took Ari and his parents to see the Festival of Lights over in Roseburg. He loved driving through the park and seeing all the lights. As soon as we got home, he said, “Let’s do dat again!”
Although it is commonly observed that children help us rediscover the wonder in the world, we seldom dig deeper into the miracle of vision and joy embodied in their love of repetition. Children, however, repeat things not out of dullness or because they are stuck in a rut. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy argues, rightly I think, that a child’s love of repetition is from an excess of life:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. The always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until nearly dead.
Indeed, Ari’s eyes and face glow with joy and energy when he cries, “Do Dat Again!” He loves a game long after I have grown weary or bored.
We saw this love of repetition in our sons when they were growing up. Anything we did two Christmases or camping trips in a row became a tradition they demanded we observe. Teckla and I were happy to oblige. We knew that traditions gave them security in a world awash with change and loss. One way to look at all the feast days and fasting days of the Old Testament is God giving His people good things to repeat that would help them know His goodness and stay anchored in His truth. Just as Israel’s traditions defined them as a people, our traditions defined us as a family.
There is something holy in the refusal to be bored with simple joys. A child is not bored because while playing the game, the pleasure of the game itself is everything. Winning the game has not yet become the only goal. There is no consciousness of how the game might win them admiration or whether they look cool while playing. Many parents have seen the sad moment when their child abandons a game or toy because of an older child mocked them for playing a “little kid’s game.” It is a kind of fall from grace—from grace of pure play.
Chesterton suggests that whole world expresses God’s love of repetition. Instead of seeing the regularity of nature as evidence of impersonal materialist world, Chesterton says it is evidence of Gods delight:
But perhaps God is strong enough to exalt 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 be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Being a grandfather has helped me grow younger. I play more—even when no child is around. Children rejoice in simple things because they are seeing them for the first time; I rejoice because I may be seeing them for the last time.
Ari, however, is already learning an important truth about some kinds of repetition. Some pleasures are destroyed by our desire to repeat them. Sometimes when playing hide-and-seek, Ari is delighted when I hide in a new and unexpected place—under a pile of blankets on the couch. He is so delighted that he exclaims, “Hide there again!” I do, but this hiding place is no longer new or surprising.
Many pleasures, as C. S. Lewis points out, are best not repeated. Our insistence on repeatable pleasures leads to addiction and slavery to fleshly sins. In Out of the Silent Planet by Lewis, the earthling (Ransom) is told that a “pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered” and that many pleasures need not be repeated because a pleasure consists of the anticipation, experience, and memory. There is world of difference between a childlike delight in repetition and childish demand that pleasures be repeated—it is a difference between heaven and hell.
Even the love of tradition can lead to misery if we demand our present experiences live up to our past. Those with lovely childhood memories of Christmas can become vexed and depressed with the failure of Christmas to live up to those golden memories. One of our family’s best Christmas memories is one spent at an orphanage in Tijuana. A childlike love of repetition needs to be joined to a child-like willingness to find goodness in what is new and different. God’s faithfulness is unchanging and his mercies new every morning.