|A ritual is
anything we do repeatedly or do in a particular manner. I can say
it is my morning ritual to get a cup of coffee soon after waking up.
I sorely miss it if I don't do it every morning. I can say that it
has become a family ritual to eat our holiday meals at about 4 in the afternoon,
after an afternoon of watching TV football.
A religious ritual has these same elements, but adds the powerful dimension of symbol and meaning. Liturgy, for example, consists of many public rituals. This involves sacred times and spaces and objects. It uses gestures, movement, and a variety of means to involve our senses.
Ritual can play a very important part in our growing ability to find intimacy with God in our everyday lives. This is too often an unexplored means. Too often the only religious ritual left in our daily lives is going to church on Sunday. After the reform of the Liturgy, in a way that brought more devotion back into our experience of public worship, many of the popular devotions, that had served to fill the void over the years, become less popular. More and more we are realizing that we have lost something in the process. Our lives seem more "secular" (from the Latin, saeculum, "the world").
One way to restore some religious sense and feel to our lives is to add some ritual. Adding Ritual is a recognition that we are body-spirits and that "being spiritual" is not simply a matter of having spiritual minds. When we use our bodies in some ritual act, however small, and engage our imaginations, our emotions and our faith, the religious experience we have is not only deeper, it becomes an integrated part of our lives.
The place in which I live. Are there any religious or symbolic images in my home? A crucifix, a cross, a baptismal candle, a family bible, a gift I received for my wedding or anniversary? These kinds of images and religious symbols can become anchor points in my consciousness. Putting a cross or crucifix in a home puts a powerful source of faith and focal connection point in the place where I live. It says, "I believe in your love for me." Just looking at it - on the wall in my bedroom, on the wall where we eat supper - can say, "I place my trust in your life-giving love for me." If I don't have a cross or crucifix, it could make a wonderful gift to myself or my spouse. It can say, "Lord, I want to place this sign of your love in my home." Or, as a gift to a spouse, it can say, "Let's let this cross be a daily symbol of our desire to keep Jesus at the center of our relationship." Perhaps, when each of our children were baptized, we were given a candle with the words, "Keep this flame burning brightly." Placing that candle - perhaps one for each child - in a prominent place in my home can become a sacred reminder of who I am for my children. These are only a few examples. There are many others where some image or symbol or piece of art takes on very special meaning because of its connection with a religious experience.
Ritual Times. Taking advantage of "times" in my day that are natural rituals, and letting them be open to religious meaning, goes a long way to helping me be a contemplative in the midst of my busy life. Experiment with what a difference it can make to pause for a few brief moments each morning - perhaps at the edge of the bed, putting on a pair of slippers or a robe or drying off after a shower. Consciously marking the beginning of each and every day, at the same time, with a 20-30 second recollection of who I am and placing my day in God's hands will transform how I experience my life. So, too with how I go to bed. Find something I do every evening - even if it is something as simple as the time it takes to take my clothes off, or the few moments I pause to sit on the edge of the bed - I can pause to give thanks.
Meal Times. We all eat. Sometimes we eat badly or on the run, but because eating is something we do every day, eating can be a wonderful time to consciously choose to be contemplative, for even a few moments. We may be used to saying "Grace" (from the Latin, gratia, "thanks") before eating. Try pausing at the beginning of each meal and giving thanks for this food and the nourishment from God it represents. Try adding some personal words, that I would begin to use again and again whenever I eat, for example, "Give me faith, hope and love," or "As you feed me, may I feed others today," or "My life is in your hands," or "Calm me, Lord, and give me your peace."
Using my body. We all know how important "body language" is. We communicate with our bodies, sometimes even unconsciously. We've all had the experience of "reading" the body language of others, expressing something different from their words. We can use our bodies to express what we want to express, without words. It is particularly wonderful because it can take only a few seconds. For example, I may have a few moments to turn to God in pray, but just don't know what to say. In that brief moment, I can pause and open my hands, palms up, in silence, "say" all that needs saying. Of course, that special moment can be repeated again and again and keep deepening that gesture of surrender and trust. We are accustomed to touching our children or loved ones with gestures of love. Imagine what it introduces into our relationships if that touch became a "blessing" as well. If I'm doing it for the first time, I could place my hand on a child or loved ones face and pause and say the words, "May God protect you and keep us together in God's love," or "God bless you, dear," or simple, "Peace." I might simply trace a small gentle cross on their forehead. Then any time I touch their face, or trace that cross, this simple gesture can become a profoundly prayerful ritual between us.
Each of us will find creative ways to add rituals to our everyday lives that can allow us to be contemplatives in action. We can all find the rituals that are already in our lives and transform them, even a bit, to open them to our faith and let them become expressions of intimacy with God.