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.

Connections

image of the beach

Dear Friends,

The sea waves roll into the gently, shelving beaches :the breaking waters lapping the virgin sands. Summer is the time for sand castles, stones skimming the waters, and ice creams consumed aplenty… yes -summer is the time for the beach – even in England!

Yet as we enter the summer season, rather than being connected with the rhythms of the natural world, we find ourselves adrift and isolated in a world which travels without us. Within our public national life, we face an uncertain future – a parliament looking for partners to be trusted, a nation searching for friends and allies to do business with, a menacing rise in violence which alienates and divides…

This sense of being disconnected is one which can leave us despairing of the future, or it can be a wake-up call to a way of living which unites rather than separates.

As we move into the future there is an urgent requirement, now more than ever, to re-find the possibilities of communion in a diverse and often chaotic existence. The natural world maintains its own identity of coherence and sense – with the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the stars, the tides ebbing and flowing… there is a communion here sophisticated and fragile, yet glorious and sustaining. In developing a simple appreciation of the natural world in the places we live, we catch an aspect of communion which enlarges the heart. So it’s essential, at this time when much is diminished, to learn to say thank you for the earth and sky, for food and drink, for whatever is before us. In learning to express gratitude like this, we make steps into the wisdom and resilience of the natural order.

And for each of us there are people also. People we live with, people we are friends with and people we bump into or brush past in the course of each day – with all these people we too can find connections. By learning to say ‘thank you’ for each personal encounter we discover ‘communion.’ It’s not easy to say ‘thank you’ as sometimes this gratitude takes us into a new territory (a place of inter-dependence rather than splendid isolation). Being ‘thankful’ for the people we live with, makes ‘communion’ tangible and real. When we forget gratitude, or take it for granted, we cut ourselves off and so cause harm.

And finally we can learn to say ‘thank you’ to God for simply the gift of life. Just saying the ‘thank you’ words stretches our hearts into a more healthy place… we don’t even need a reason for the ‘thank you’ – we simply say it despite everything that is around us. Gratitude then has a chance to become something of the heart… which means it becomes real.

Wave after wave, the oceans move… season after season the years slide by… day by day we are invited to enter a communion which some have called ‘holy’. A communion we need now more than ever.