Riding the Wave of Ritual

It seems to me that human beings are organically wired for rhythm and pattern…eyeblink, footfall, heartbeat……And, we respond to each other that way as well…the finishing of one another’s sentences among friends; the comforting recognition of the footfall of someone we love; breathing in time; reading aloud en masse—who teaches us to do these things? They are part of how we live and move and have being.

When we hear the traditional beginning to a story…In whatever language that beginning might be…Once upon a time…Había una vezPada suatu hari nanti…we ready ourselves to hear something that follows a familiar path. For example—the dramatic curve. Intro…rising action…climax…resolution. It’s the pattern we know…There are characters…stuff happens…Leading up to Something…Things get wrapped up…y Colorín, colorado…the story is done.

We listen for and follow the inherent rhythms and contours of language; Everything from limericks and haiku to hip-hop depend on this. So do leaders of protests, cheerleaders, and advertising departments.

Lately, I have found myself thinking about what happens when this organic tendency toward rhythm and pattern meets the repeatable physicality of ritual. What happens when we aren’t worried about figuring out the underlying structure, or creating order and sense out of the barrage of news, and we can relax our vigilant control just enough to settle in for a bit and perhaps focus on imagination, on the mental scenery of where we go inside… and we can find relief, release, and ease… These practices, rituals, that allow us to do this take place within different contexts, certainly…but I can’t help but wonder whether the fruit is similar, no matter the context.

Where does the experience of letting go enough to ride the wave of ritual bring us? What’s the fruit of the relief, the release, the easing? I’d say vulnerability, transparency… a greater openness to something beyond ourselves and at the same time, a return to a more authentic self.

I can think of times I have gone to Mass feeling out of sorts in one way or another and been grateful to simply sit and let the familiar ritual wash over me, assume me into its flow. The patterns and rhythms hold me steady…my body knows them…I am, in a manner of speaking, safe, to let go and allow my heart to do its own work, if I choose to give myself over to that. The assurance of sameness, of pattern, can be soothing and allow me to relax. When I am more relaxed, I am more open, more transparent, more grounded in the here and now of what is real in my heart. When I am more grounded in that, I am more aware of God, more aligned with and open to God…to the mystical, the seen and unseen, the Divine. I am more able to ask, able to receive, able to offer, able to listen to truth that comes as grace and challenge because it comes as Love.

This has happened for me in the kitchen as well. I know how to make scones just as well as I know the parts of Mass. Preheat the oven to 500. Let us pray….3 cups of flour, 1/3 a cup of sugar, 2 heaping teaspoons of baking powder…Glory to God in the Highest…Sift…sift…sift…Cut in a stick of butter and offer up petitions…Whisk 1 cup of milk and two eggs…Pour into the dry mixture, incorporate, and ask, please forgive us our trespasses…Turn out the dough onto a floured surface…only say the word and I shall be healed…knead until all coming together. Pinch off golf-ball sized bits of dough and drop into a paper-lined muffin tin…have mercy on us… lower the oven to 425. Grant us peace…Bake for 12 minutes…

Drawing close to God is not exclusive to our physical location, thank goodness. A core teaching of Christianity is the always and everywhere of God. If we believe that, then though houses of worship are closed in these strangest of times, God is no further away than God ever was. Which is to say, as far away as our heartbeat…our breathing.

With most face-to-face worship services cancelled or moved online, what an opportunity this Global Pandemic has presented to see household rituals as capable of helping us pray, helping soothe us, open us, ground us…and thus be more open to God’s revelation in love. The rituals are obviously different ones than those celebrated in community while at worship…but the fruit of the familiar doing isn’t necessarily.

Riding the wave of household ritual—whatever might be meaningful within an individual’s context—an exercise regimen, attending to the making of a bed, preparing tea or coffee, baking…those processes we have done over and over again…can allow for a respite from the stress and the spinning of all happening. Allowing myself the sigh of resting in familiar action has been both grounding and freeing these days, keeping me open to catching a glimpse of the landscape of God being revealed in the Word spoken all around and through the events of our world and my own being.

It’s about fifteen scones to a batch. Go in Peace. Amen.

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