As I prepared for work this morning, I thought about something that has brought me great comfort in life. Every culture has their rituals. As a free church guy I always heard a lot of grumbling about the "empty rituals" of the high church. The implication was that we were too spiritual for rituals. But try sitting in the pew where some elderly baptist lady has enjoyed her ritual-free worship for eighty years and see what happens.
If you are the pastor, try changing the order of service or leaving out The Lord’s Prayer (or putting it in if it is normally left out). One quickly learns that every church has their rituals. In our designed-to-be-informal services, the pastor begins every service by reciting the three commitments of the church and showing the same slide. Families have their rituals, also. Interestingly, Tony Campolo has suggested that the more ritualized family life, the closer the family unit.
Ritual and habit are close allies. When I was young I primarily used competition to motivate myself. I can run faster than you. I can score higher on this test than you. Now, I find myself leaning ever harder on ritual and habit.
Every morning I carry the dog bed into the bathroom so that my dog has a warm spot to lie as he watches my preparations. I go back on the carpet in the closet and do my "morning exercises." Before I pack my lunch, I walk the dog.
When I first arrive in my office, I read the Bible. Instead of coming up with a new plan every day, I read the daily reading designated in the revised common lectionary plus the chapter of Proverbs that matches the day’s date (e.g., Proverbs 11 on January 11). Early in my work morning my friend Richard and I walk down to the cafeteria, get a cup of coffee, alternate who buys, and then walk back.
I’ve bored all my friends with tales of my lunch hour ritual of walking around the lake. I don’t think, "Will I go for a walk today?" It is what I do. My mind clears as I listen for different bird songs or try to make out the species of that duck in the distance. (I’m still young enough to time my lap each day, however.)
When I first come home, I go to the exercise room and work out. If I don’t do it then it ain’t happenin’. I recently added washing the red tear stains from my dog’s eyes while I catch my breath after my workout. By ritualizing this, I find that I’m less likely to let it go.
Joy and I sit down to dinner together almost every night and when we go to bed we snuggle in the same sequence of positions and verbalize our love for each other.
And, yes, every Sunday morning I sit in the same place during the worship service.
My rituals are like my friends. They bless and strengthen me and it warms my heart every time I give them thought.
What are your rituals? Are they a positive factor in your life? Habits can be – so don’t kick them, use them.