Personal Rituals

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.

The porch light was a part of my mother’s personal ritual every morning.

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.

Is coffee a part of your morning ritual?

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

Rituals can celebrate relationships.

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!

Would you like to respond today? We would love to hear from you!

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  1. Kathleen on November 20, 2017 at 5:17 am

    What a lovely reflection Sr. Melannie!

    One of my weekly rituals is reading your blog on Monday mornings. It is an inspiring way to start my week. (I usually am one of the first ones to respond.)

    Thanks for being a blessing to all of us online and beyond. God bless.


  2. Sister M. Leonarda Nowak on November 20, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Thank you ! Happy Thanksgiving rituals in the grace and wonder of all the blessings of our Great and Awesome God

  3. Jean on November 20, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Thank you for starting my week with your words and thoughts.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you!!

  4. Lori Follett on November 20, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Hi Sister Melannie,

    Thanks for your sharing and for asking the questions and for bringing me good memories of my mother. One of my rituals in the morning is to thank God for my husband. and I do that because Mom told me too:) She said, “before your feet hit the floor in the morning, thank God for your husband, no matter what.” And since she told me that I have do that. It is nice.
    Your friend, Lori

  5. Sharon Tressel on November 20, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I was taught by a Sister of Notre Dame as a child to make a small Sign of the Cross over my heart every time I hear a siren. It’s a prayer that Jesus, Mary and Joseph will help out with the situation. Sixty some years later, I still do it and have broadened it to people being stopped by police, etc. I guess it’s just a little contribution to pray for all those in need.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Jean Canatsey on November 20, 2017 at 11:05 am

    My Dad always kissed us goodbye and told us he loved us when we left. I remember him telling us that you never knew when it would be the last time we saw each other. My husband and I have continued that practice with our children and their children. We never leave a friend without a hug.
    Of all the holiday traditions we have, the one written in stone is our Christmas morning breakfast menu of ham, scrambled eggs, Orange Danish rolls and freshly squeezed orange juice. Any child who makes it home for Christmas morning expects it. Since moving to Florida in 1993, my husband and I don’t feel the Christmas season has truly begun until we attend the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.
    AND our Monday morning ritual now includes reading your blog. Thank you, Sr. Melannie!

  7. Shirley Goode on November 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I am blessed to bring Communion to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals. Your weekly inspirations are often a beginning point for sharing. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Communion service at assisted living to share this meditation! Thank you! Bless you as you have blessed so many!

  8. Cathy Buraghi on November 20, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Special thanks to you, Sr. Melanie, for your moving reflections each Monday. My parents taught us to never go to bed angry and to say “I love you” when leaving or hanging up the phone.
    May you have a blessed Thanksgiving, filled with the love of friends and family, and most especially Our Lord.
    Thanks be to God.

  9. Suzanne on November 20, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    I am thankful that part of my Monday ritual is reading your message, Sr. Melannie, and reflecting on it throughout the day.

    During the holidays I have the ritual of baking my mother’s recipes for the family and using her large “milk glass” plate to dispay the variety of cookies.

    One of my favorite yearly rituals is New Year’s Eve when I review my journal calendar and thank God for the blessings and graces of the year. It is a calendar from the Ministry of the Arts which I gift myself with each year. On New Year’s day I prepare my new calendar with all the birthdays, anniversaries, etc. of family and friends to send cards.

    In this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for Sunflower Seeds and the nourishment your seeds provide.


  10. Frances on November 20, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    During the holidays, thoughts always turn to family, especially when they live far away. I bake my mother’s biscotti, which my children have always enjoyed, and when they receive the package, I know we are together in memories and thoughts.

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

  11. Sandy Zabierowsky on November 20, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your life with us and hopefully waking us up and
    and giving us a chance to think. Of course, coffee in the morning is one.
    At night time I always go to bed with my Rosary.

  12. David Consolo on November 20, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Every time my wife and leave each other for the day, we take a moment to stop and look at each other and then sign each other’s forehead.
    It makes us stop and remember that we may not see each other again.
    We want to be certain that we take a moment to pause and say “we love you, God bless you.”

  13. Suzanne Sayer on November 20, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Our Italian family always starts the Thanksgiving meal with homemade antipasto and salami, cheese, and bread. The main course includes the traditional foods. Of course, we say the blessing before we dig in to all the wonderful food. Thank you for the blessing of Sunflowers Seeds on Monday mornings.

  14. Kathleen Cunningham on November 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    Our traditions changed 7 years ago when we moved into a continuing care community from our 4000 sq. ft. home. A year ago I gave away my car. We had Thanksgiving here with whatever family could come. This year I called my youngest daughter and said I wanted a home cooked Thanksgiving meal. Her friend, Daniel, will prepare it and everyone’s bringing something. It will be the 2nd Thanksgiving since my husband’s death. There have been many changes. This may become a new tradition. Kathleen

  15. Patty on November 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving, Sister.

  16. John Hopkins on November 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you, Sr. Melannie…..I, too, like coffee with my prayer. I so love the mornings! Coffee, quiet, reading the prayers from This Day, some quiet lectio divina, another cup of coffee, and then a good book (currently La Rose by Louise Erdrich). Ahhh bliss!

    PS: I echo everything Kathleen says about you and your blog.

  17. Anne on November 20, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you for helping me remember the many rituals in my life. My day begins similar to yours, except I walk the dog before coffee and prayers.
    This holiday season is the first without my dear husband and my family
    and I will be starting some new rituals. Happy Thanksgiving to you .
    Special thanks for Sunflower Seeds.

  18. Julie T on November 20, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Sister Melannie,
    Reading your blog has become a ritual with me each week. We are grateful for having met you and knowing you. Your blog is like sitting down with you and having a chat again. Ed and I always start our day with the Morning Offering before breakfast and end our day with the rosary together.Thank you for reminding me of the special things in our lives.

  19. Vera on November 20, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Reading begins my day…the newspaper…and reading ends the day…a stack of library books always waiting. My anchors. I am grateful for the gift of being able to read, for precious eyesight and for the new book by you, Sr. Melannie. That has been designated as special Advent reading. Blessed Thanksgiving!

  20. Thomas DeFreitas on November 21, 2017 at 7:43 am

    A coffee ritual: One cup of instant, sometimes two, before making the automatic drip. Another: Three Hail Marys as the instant cup is being heated in the microwave.

    A Christmas ritual: Reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” to my mom.

    An email ritual: Ending most emails with the words “peace and light.”

    A rosary ritual: Ending with this rhyme:
    “Clear star of the morning in beauty enshrined,
    O Lady, make speed to help humankind.”

    Before beginning any dreary or difficult task, to encourage myself, I’ll mutter, “Let’s see what we can’t do!”

    Poetry ritual: Coffee, of course, aids composition. And a thirty-minute head-clear where I write whatever comes to mind. Usually thereafter I have at least the seed of a poem!

  21. Betty Nagel on November 22, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Thanksgiving ritual is watching IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I love that movie. For me it begins the Christmas season and reminds me of the importance of every life, mine and all those I cherish as well as people I meet in passing. Each one of us has an affect on everyone else in our own circle, and that spreads to others we can’t even imagine.

  22. Melannie Svoboda SND on November 22, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    A BIG thank you to all of you who shared some of your personal rituals with us. It’s obvious that prayer is a part of our daily ritual. And thank you for mentioning that this blog is now a ritual for you. Writing it every week is one of my rituals too! I appreciate all your responses. If anyone wishes to add another response, go right ahead. Thanks again! Melannie

  23. Ida on November 22, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you for taking me back to the Thanksgiving services of my childhood. I will miss singing those hymns tomorrow before enjoying the Thanksgiving feast! Lovely……

  24. Carol Kapostasy on November 26, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Sunflower Seeds is my ritual….it fills a void in my soul. You give me food for thoughtful prayer & a way to tailor my daily/weeks tasks. God speaks to me through you. Life is often challenging as I get older but I’m grateful for each day of new surprises. Wishing you & & all your followers a blessed beginning to the holiday season.

  25. Deacon Pat on November 26, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    What a great insight on rituals. As a deacon and oblate, morning is special.
    The silence, the peace, the prayers, the rituals all set me up for the day.Liturgy of the hours, daily mass readings, some readings , and I end with my favorite author and her books, “By the Way” (4th time reading},
    and “When the Rain Speaks”. Can’t do it without you!

  26. John on December 1, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Goose dinners and a crazy aunt’s silly games. 😉

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