When we think of the word “ritual,” we often think of certain religious practices: blessing ourselves with holy water before entering a church, the Mass itself, praying grace before meals. But, chances are, we have other rituals that may not be specifically religious. These personal rituals play an important role in our lives.
Here’s one of my mother’s personal rituals that I recall from my childhood. My dad was a tool and die maker. Often he left for work very early in the morning while it was still dark. My mother would kiss him goodbye (that was part of their ritual!) and he would walk to the garage in the back. A few moments later, he would drive out the driveway that ran beside our side porch. My mother would stand by the side door and, as he drove past, she would flick the porch light on and off a couple of times. It was her personal ritual for saying goodbye to the man she loved.
Many of us have rituals we perform regularly. For example, do you have any morning rituals or evening rituals? When I get up in the morning, I always make the sign of the cross as I crawl out of bed. At the end of the day when I crawl back into bed, I make the sign of the cross too. Sometimes I make the regular sign of the cross. Other times I simply trace a cross on my forehead. It’s my way of marking the beginning and ending of each day.
My morning rituals also include a cup of coffee while I pray, a shower, dressing, and stepping outside to retrieve the morning paper. If it’s still dark, I check out the moon and the stars. I usually eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, check my email, and leave the house at 7:15 to walk to church for Mass. My rituals for ending my day include the playing of soft music and reading a little before crawling into bed.
We can have weekly rituals too: cleaning, shopping, watching sports games. We can have annual rituals too. How do you celebrate birthdays, graduations, or anniversaries in your family? How do you celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July? Rituals can include favorite recipes, songs, certain decorations, even stories. If you ever find yourself saying, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without ___,” you are identifying a ritual.
Writer Judith Valente says, “Our personal rituals are holy.” Why are they holy? Rituals mark the passage of time. This is important because we can take time for granted and live with the illusion that we have all the time in the world. Rituals hallow or bless our time.
Rituals help us celebrate relationships. My mother’s porch light celebrated
her love for my Dad. Rituals also steady us. No matter what is happening in our life, no matter what mood we’re in, our rituals have a way of centering us. When I’m out of town giving a retreat, my personal rituals are often disrupted. My coffee might not be available at 5:00 am. The setup of my room is different. My breakfast is not my usual one. When I return home, I always enjoy getting back to my personal daily rituals again. Can rituals be counterproductive? Yes, if we become slaves to them. Healthy personal rituals always leave room for growth and spontaneity.
What are some of your personal rituals?
What are some of your rituals for celebrating special days or special events?
Since Thanksgiving Day is this Thursday (in the U.S.), what are some of your rituals for celebrating this day?
In honor of Thanksgiving, I chose this “Thanksgiving Medley” for today’s song. It’s my way of saying Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
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