Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sustaining Presence of Rituals - Everyday, Liturgical and In Illness

Ritual - an established procedure for a religious or other rite; a book of rites or ceremonies

Most everyone has rituals for beginning their day - awakening, a shower, eat, go to work, stay at home, have lunch and dinner, exercise, sleep. That's a basic outline with individual modifications.

Athletes sometimes observe rituals before a game - eating certain foods, listening to favorite music and wearing the same clothes. Before I jump into the pool to swim, I ask God to bless my time in the water, making those moments holy and meditative.

My ritual each morning links me to God shortly after I awaken. I go to my desk, say the Lord's Prayer out loud twice, pray for my family and friends, record my gratitude from the previous day, reflect on a few verses of scripture, and if a word or image surfaces, I record it. These practices observed before I go downstairs ground my day in God.

Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of spending more time in the morning reading the Bible and in prayer. When I worked, however, I developed an abbreviated form of centering using my 30 minute commute to pray and then read a prayer before I got out of my car. Sometimes it's necessary to be creative and find a meaningful ritual with God.

Coffee Ritual

The March, 2016, issue of O:The Oprah Magazine, had a short feature called "Coffee Mate." The author describes how she got to know the barista who filled her coffee order each morning. He always greeted her with a smile and asked how her day was going. She, in turn, got to know him as he shared stories about his family and desire to return to school. She said, "I've never told him my last name, yet he knows me from the milestones to the minutiae. Sure he's a total stranger, but when he asks how I'm doing, he actually wants to know."

My daughters, Sarah and Anna, stop each morning for coffee on their way to work. They enjoy  camaraderie and familiarity with the baristas who take their orders. When I asked my older daughter, Sarah, what she thought about "Coffee Mate," she replied, "It's all about the ritual."

And it is. There is something sustaining about being greeted by the same face at the coffee shop each day. Often the barista has the coffee waiting before an order is place.  Exchanging pleasantries and conversation builds a connection that can be foundational to the day.

Rituals to Sustain in Challenging Circumstances and Illness

Rituals can offer secure attachments for all stages of life. For moments of celebration such as a birthday or graduation, we often have cake with words honoring the occasion scripted on the top. Invitations are sent, family and friends gather. Sometimes cards and gifts find their way to the person of honor. We know the pattern for celebration - the ritual for gathering and honoring has been set in place for many generations.

Daily living often brings challenges, such as job loss or serious illness as well as frustrations or inconveniences  like a broken computer, a tooth crown that comes off, glitches in event planning or a flat tire. Rituals to sustain in these circumstances can involve coming to church.

I grew up attending the Episcopal Church that uses it's Book of Common Prayer. This book contains all of the services of worship for the calendar year. Holy Communion is celebrated the first Sunday of the month followed by three Sundays that use the service of Morning Prayer. For the occasional fifth Sunday, Morning Prayer is repeated.

Despite growing up in an unpredictable, chaotic home, I knew what to expect on Sunday. I came to love the comforting presence of the service rituals that became familiar over the years. The words and liturgy buried deeply in my heart, grounding me closer to God over time.

The January 18, 2016, Patheos blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs) had an article about the importance of liturgy written by Jonathan Algner who lives with depression. "The Black Dog, The White Pill and Liturgy" describes the importance of liturgy as follows:

"If it wasn't for liturgy, I really might have been done. My depression is worlds better than it was last fall, but there are still times when I feel disconnected. I don't always feel my faith. I don't always feel God's presence. I don't always believe.

But I still go to church, and I say and sing and pray when my heart is often unable to do so.

Even when I don't believe, I say it anyway, " I believe in God, the Father Almighty.."

Even when I don't mean it, I pray it anyway, "Thy kingdom come, they will be done ...."

Even when words fail, I listen anyway, "The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you."

And I know that I am no longer alone.

It's restoring.

Renewing.

Reconciling.

And it's life giving. Even if all I can do is muster the energy to show up and do my job, the ritual of the liturgy, the word and sacrament, nourishes my faith at its weakest points and gives me strength to carry on."

What rituals form your day?

What rituals are meaningful in worship and help practice your faith?

Prayer: God, part of our forming closer to Your image involves rituals to increase an awareness of Your presence to sustain us at all times. Guide us as we seek You each day. Amen.

E

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