The importance of rituals

Picture of Mary and some flowers

Dear Friends,

Our church is dedicated and named after Mary, the mother of our Lord. On 10th September we celebrate our Patronal Festival – indeed our ‘Weddings’ Flower Festival falls right on our Patronal week-end. Mary’s story is one of transformation as she carries the gift of God within her, and in the Bethlehem back yard delivers the Saviour of the world. Mary was there when Jesus transformed the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and she was there at the foot of the cross as her son was crucified. In this brutal crucifixion Jesus transforms the very worst of life into something precious beyond words – salvation and forgiveness.

In our church worship we gather to meet with Jesus. Sometimes we call this a ‘sacrament’ of worship. A ‘sacrament’ is something which makes the invisible visible. We do things ‘as if’ what we can’t see is right before us. Children do this by second nature – they play ‘trains’ in the garden, with the garden bench as a station and the wheelbarrow as the train. The children know what these items – the bench and the barrow – really are and what they are used for – but in this period of the game they all choose to act ‘as if’ they really are a station and a train.

When a game of hide and seek is played : by Dad and his 4 year old daughter – again the ‘as if’ rule is being applied. Dad hides behind the curtain with a foot purposefully sticking out. The daughter knows only too well that dad is choosing to be incompetent in his hiding, yet takes great delight in the ‘finding’. Dad plays along with the befuddled role he has chosen to play – in this game transformation is taking place as the daughter takes on the powerful, competent role of ‘finder’ while Dad takes on the vulnerable and powerless role of the one being found. It’s a role reversal in a game of ‘as if’s’ and something important is being learned by both parties in the game.

Mary is a timely reminder for each of us of the power of transformation.
In church on a Sunday we take bread and wine and act ‘as if’ these simple items are not simply bread and wine but the very presence of God. We take what is ordinary and sing, pray and kneel ‘as if’ these items are divine. We give the ‘peace’ to one another in such a way ‘as if’ the other people in the building are our bothers and sisters – even though we might not have met them before. We are making ‘ritual’ out of the action of ‘as if’, and behind the ritual lies the spiritual (a title of a Van Morrison song).

Rituals are really important in life. We greet people on the street with a ritual of a wave or a handshake or fist pump – even people we don’t know too well and in this ritual something takes place and is stretched into existence.

It is imperative for us to consider how we can set up new rituals into our lives – how do we say hello to loved ones in the home, how do we greet people older than us in years, how do we say ‘thank you’ when something is done for us. All these are rituals which if we are not careful can become stale with little force of transformation – but when they are fresh and done with attention, even the most simple ones, carry a profound energy of change.

So why not look for the commonplace rituals in your own life – the ones taken for granted, the ones which could be re-freshed with a bit of attention, and the times and places where new rituals can be tried. As we do, we can watch and sense transformation growing within us as a sacramental way of living is practiced day by day.

A ‘good soaking’

BBQ with Steak on it

Dear Friends,

The summer BBQ is something not to be missed… with sunshine, hot coals and a selection of marinaded meats, skewers and the banana and ice cream – yes, something not to be missed! Perhaps it’s the marinade which really makes it – in the soaking of herbs, sauces and spices the bar-b-que spells out flavour in big capital letters! From being bland, the marinade specially prepared and applied, makes all the difference.

Not only the BBQ but our climate works like this to benefit our gardens. A good soaking is sometimes what’s just called for!

If this is right for our physical life – the skin and bones of our existence, the green shoots of growth from the earth, the summer dinner al-fresco,  it is also true for our spiritual lives. The bit of us inside us. The bit that makes us feel things, the way we think, the heart of who we are. Absorbing life impacts on our sub-conscious and so affects everything.

When we get soaked in accusations, anxiety, spite and such things – well it has an impact – and for these things the impact is not great. You could even say it’s a bit like toxic waste… harming and in some cases destroying our insides. Accusations, anxiety, spite are the kind of things which pollute our existence – they drop into our speaking, thinking and feeling in a way which distorts and twists goodness out of us.

What’s really alarming – we don’t even have to go looking for such things. They are prevalent, abounding almost at every corner of life. Workplaces, coffee shops, even in our homes – these pollutants can thrive. And we, if we are not careful, just absorb them. Losing perspective, pointing the finger, being mean in our judgments and thinking just becomes commonplace and normal. How sad this is – especially when the world we live in is so extraordinary and amazing! The colours splashed across our ever-changing skyline, the smiles and companionship of loved friends… these are not to be taken for granted for. For these we can and need to be grateful.

And gratitude, saying thank you is a really essential way for us to be soaked in what is healthy and non-toxic. You see, when we say thank you we give attention to the abundance in life which is here to sustain, refresh and replenish our existence. Saying thank you is not simply an acknowledgement of what is good, it is rather a ‘soaking in’ of what is good – a little bit like the smoky, summer marinade  or the rain shower feeding the roots of our garden.

When we view gratitude in this way – the very act of saying thank you re-positions our whole outlook so we just soak in what is healthy and good – with the impact of strengthening our hearts. This means we will think more constructively, be more resilient in the face of challenge, and have the capacity to just keep going with greater energy.

Prayers of gratitude – spoken each day, whispered in the night, and written in our hearts – provide us with a daily soaking which costs no money and goes a long way to ensure we bless, and don’t pollute, the bits of the world we live in. It’s August – a great time for eating outdoors and also to learn, and re-learn, the art of being thankful – everyday…