Spiritual rituals provide a strong structure to form our lives. They break up the relentless flow of days so certain acts are set apart as worthy of our attention and devotion.
In good times, they define who we are. By saying grace before a meal, I replenish my well of gratitude. Instead of thoughts of traffic or hassles, I give thanks. This ritual changes the flow of my thinking and prepares me to eat with more reverence.
Rituals meet spiritual needs when our individual strength fails. In crisis, I know to pray where before I might have wilted from pressure or coped through self-destructive ways.
People say rituals can seem empty. I counter that it is our job to be present. It is never about the glint of gold or careful embroidery. Our life force—our caring intention—makes rituals powerful. Without our mindful focus, any ritual will seem empty, no matter how ancient or lavish it is.
Serving as a deacon in church, I had the opportunity to take communion to the local assisted care homes. If you want to feel young, spend a morning with women in their 90s! They had such an illuminating perspective on life after nearly a century of experience. I felt like a pipsqueak practically just out of the egg while talking with them.
One woman had difficulty seeing and hearing which made it problematic for her to engage. She had limited ways of interacting with the world. Phones were an impossibility. She couldn’t watch TV because it didn’t make sense to her. She couldn’t read or listen to audiobooks. The elder and I did the best we could, but it was difficult to have a conversation with her.
We asked if she wanted to take communion. She said yes. We took out the bread and juice. As the elder began to read the words of institution, the aging woman’s eyes took on a new light. She began to repeat the words with surprising vigor and enthusiasm. She knew them by heart. “In remembrance of me,” she said. She nodded. The ritual awoken and comforted her. She repeated, “Do this in remembrance of me. Yes, that’s right.”
She took communion with her full self, present to the mystery that transcends our physical bodies of earthly limitations.
The nourishing rituals you invest in now will serve you your whole life, even after your eyes and ears fail you. Consider which rituals are meaningful to you, and practice them with your whole heart. Be mindful and present; you provide the fuel that makes the motor of rituals run.
- Say grace at mealtime
- Receive ashes as a symbol of mortality
- Take bread and wine as communion
- Wear a cross or other symbol of your faith
- Light a candle in memory of a loved one
- Pray for the comfort of others
- Kneel while praying
Lord, bless us with your presence
in all our spiritual practices.
Help us learn your ways while
we are strong so
we know your ways by heart
when we grow weak.
May we find courage to commit
to rituals that define and shape us:
To do this in remembrance of you
not from mindless habit but
with eager anticipation,
and true love.
Tell me your thoughts!
Which rituals help to strengthen your faith? Can you remember a ritual that you were caught up in?