When Rituals End

We are pleased to share a guest post from Esraa Mohamed. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim, studying Physical Therapy at Cairo University. Esraa describes herself as “just another soul being passionate about the universe”. Today she is sharing with us her insights about rituals; family rituals, how rituals become “remember whens” and how rituals change over time.

Too many scenes floated into my mind the instant the word “rituals” crossed my sight. I was brought up in a family of four. I was constantly daydreaming back then for a bigger family, a family of six or something. But the bitterness of the small family didn’t weigh much, as our cozy rituals compensated that issue. Friday mornings were on top of all. We, the four, squeezing in the kitchen going back and fro preparing breakfast together. With that homely ambiance, we sat on a small woody table enjoying breakfast together, talking about everything in life. My father, mother and little brother are all I have for a family and those Friday mornings were all that we got.

Winter time. The air is filled with chilling, but warm breeze. 10 pm and I prepared my bag for school. Heading toward my daddy’s bed, I squeeze under the warm sheath, finding my way to his hug. “Hey daddy” I used to say and then I would end up telling him how angry I was about that friend who passed away last week without giving me a chance to say goodbye, and how much I liked physics and hated sociology. We used to make fun of my mum, making jokes about her just to drive her crazy. Daddy used to listen and then, kissing him on the cheek, I wished him sweet dream and headed to my bed.

It shook me to the core to realize that many of these rituals had become only “Remember whens”. I don’t know when we precisely ended up having nothing to say on Friday mornings or when we ceased practicing the other rituals? I always thought that I missed those days but I do not. I feel quite shocked to hear myself say that, but the moment I said it, I knew it was true. I used to love those rituals but now they are gone.

As I grew older, I began to understand rituals differently. Rituals are those deeds you would go on doing when everyone else has given up on them. They could be those murmuring hums before you sleep. Those solo hangouts when you are down. The rituals we come up with are what help us endure pain, so I try to come up with as many of those types of rituals as possible.

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Rituals and Racism

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As an expat, I am constantly creating new rituals. New ways to celebrate, to morn, to live in new places.  have become pretty good at re-creating rituals, yet confronted with the recent epidemic of violence, I am struggling to find rituals that sufficiently encompass my beliefs. I try to live my life in the model of the anti-racist, anti-sexist, radical lover I know as Jesus. In these weeks that have led up to the celebration of this radical leader’s birth, and in light of recent events across the USA, I have been forced to look at the rituals I use to acknowledge this birth and question whether these rituals resonate with the Jesus I know, and the world I live in.

For me, this year, I have felt the call to prepare for the birth of Jesus with new rituals. Ones where I chant with hands raised, ones where I lay on the cold ground and contemplate the lives taken unfairly, and the unfair privilege my skin color endows upon me. My church this year hasn’t been filled with pink and purple candles and biblical scriptures, but with red and black painted signs, ad the words of other radical spiritual leaders working for peace and love like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet tonight I will go to a traditional church service, with rituals that will not reflect the anti-racist message of my advent. I will do this because for all my thinking, and for all my experience with re-creating rituals, I have not adequately been able to re-create a Christmas Eve mass or the christian church that encompasses my anti-racist beliefs. This failure of mine and of the christian community in which I currently live, saddens me. I have seen some of my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukkah in beautiful ways that honor radical anti-racist movements. I am honored to see the ways they have honored the voices of people of color in the rituals of their faith.  I hope to learn from them. I hope to find a way to encompass my grief at the world’s current state into religious rituals of joy and hope. I hope to find a way to listen to the voices of the oppressed as we together celebrate the birth of Jesus.

How does an anti-racist church make new rituals in times like these? How would my radical savior want me to honor his birth today? I am not sure, but I know the answer requires more of us all than simply lighting a candle. If we are to honor the birth of Jesus who died with love on his lips, we have to live in that radical love always. We have to face the bruised, murdered, tear-gassed world, and bear the pain we have brought, we must listen to those we have silenced for so long.

Re-kindling The Magic In The Ritual

Today’s post comes from Nermine Mohamed, who like John Smith in his post on the prayer in ritual, and like Jenni in her post on the ritual of prayer, looks for the meaning behind rituals. Nermine gives us all great insights on how we must never take our rituals for granted, for they offer us a special kind peace and love.

I am a Muslim. “Ṣalāt” or Prayers are a cardinal doctrine in my religion; the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is a daily ritual that I am required to do five times. All my life I have been taught that I should pray, without knowing why I should. I would pray because I had to, I am obliged to, thus often I would just do it nonchalantly, absentmindedly, just to take it off my shoulders. I would recite the verses which had become meaningless because they have been said countless times without ever pausing to reflect on the meanings behind these words. My mouth would say them, but my heart never felt them. I would stand in prayer while my heart and mind are elsewhere.

Now I am trying to look at my daily prayers in a different way. It is true that prayers are a duty, an obligation you have to perform as a Muslim, but it is only for my sake, not a pressure or a burden, but a relief, a time-out from the big and stressful game of life. As Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has always referred to Ṣalāt as a relief from all the pain and worries of the world. Now I feel that I need to pray. I need to stand looking down humbly, for I am full of sins, full of flaws, yet God never pushes me away, God is always eager to hear me out, eager to direct me if I am lost or confused, and ready to forgive if I only ask for forgiveness.

I need to glorify God and give thanks for my countless blessings which are benevolently and bountifully bestowed upon me every single moment, even though I so rarely appreciate them and so often take them for granted.I need to kneel down with my nose on the ground, for I am always holding it up high, letting my human ego consume me, thinking I am smarter, I am better, that I do not need help. Thus it is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable, smart, or successful I become, I owe it all to God.

I am constantly looking for peace, for guidance. I want to be more humble, more thankful and more compassionate. I found out that all of this is part of one single ritual that I was doing out of obligation without letting it affect and change me. That’s why rituals can be tricky. Sometimes, without even noticing, something very special, unique and spiritual can turn into a mundane habit, which often loses its meaning, its uniqueness, because it has been repeated countless times.

I am daily trying to re-kindle my spiritual connection with God through my daily prayers. It is not always that easy. It is a constant battle between the sounds of the world buzzing inside my ears and trying to listen to that voice within. Sometimes that voice fades away amidst all the noise, and sometimes it is not even there, but some other times I feel it, I hear it. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder, sometimes as low as a murmur. But when it is there, I find the magic in the ritual.

The Ritual Of Prayer

Lord, Teach Us to Pray. – Andrew Murray

Some om, cross legged, eyes closed, hands out in open surrender. Others kneel, nose to ground, stomach pulled in as a physical reminder of smallness. Some pace, some chant a mantra. Some lift their hands and others clasp them tight. Many rock back and forth. Some begin to hum, others sing, others say “thank you” over and over until the words are unrecognizable and begin to echo in their ears. The sounds of prayer fill a room, an orchestra tuning their hearts, finding a rhythm, connecting and listening and joining in with those around them.

Peace is found in the ritual. Peace is found in the music of prayer, the songs, the dances, the sway of a church choir and clapping of hands and the stillness and silence of Lord Hear Our Prayer.

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Prayer is mysterious. It is evasive. It is absolutely impossible to do at times, when the heart is hard and life is loud. I find myself drawn to the rituals, rediscovering the winding cacophony of vocally expressing praise, thanks, amazement, wonder, and needs. I remember the voice of my father, deep and muttering, lost in another world where his words are more than consonants and vowels thrown together. I remember my mother, who rocks back and forth and sings whatever song comes to mind. I see their faith, their rituals of spiritual connection, and I am reminded of the good news that I, too, can have a ritual.

So I quiet my heart. I open my mouth. I sing, I hum, I think of the beauty of the world and the honor of being in it to make a difference. I say thank you. I say wow. I say please. I look at my students, and pray that their lives will be filled with joy, discovery, compassion, understanding and action. I pray for those far and near, during this month of rituals when I cannot be with those I love. I pray that the music of my prayer will change my heart, even if it doesn’t change anything else.

I pray the rituals of prayer give peace to those singing the music in their hearts.

Theater Rituals Creating Community

There is no magic quite like that of an empty theater. There are smells, textures, curtains and sawdust, a million shades of black painted over a million other colors that came before. There is expectant silence, and twilight sleepiness. Saying goodbye to an empty theater is akin to tucking a child into bed in the soft glow of night lights, knowing you will leave before she wakes up.

My place of magic was The Beverly Arts Center, a theater space used by various community theater groups on the south side of Chicago. I was a chorus child, an oddball, a laughing extra in period costume and sausage curls created by a neighbor’s mom. I loved every minute of it.

A community theater would perform A Christmas Carol like clockwork every year. It’s where I learned to harmonize to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of theater love, life, and lore. It was Cassie who pushed me out in the snow to do a ritualistic anti-curse when I said the name of the Scottish play without knowing any better (Dear Lord now I know). It’s where Christmas Present gave me a Jiminy Cricket good luck charm and Joe was a jolly Bob Cratchit and the stage manager let us eat the turkey prop after the show if we kids weren’t too annoying in the green room. It’s where a small group of friends bonded over silly tricks and broken hearts, stolen kisses backstage and a brother chipping off his sister’s nail polish.

It was community.

Community theater isn’t quite like any other kind of theater. There’s a switch in priorities, a love, a group bonding over something we would do for free, again and again and again. It means family, loyalty, laughter and support. It means bear hugs after the curtain goes down, story telling at a bar, and the knowledge these people will love you unconditionally as long as you don’t ever skip strike or act like a diva.

It was in this magical place where I felt loved, wanted and accepted. Religious tradition stresses the importance of breaking bread together. Surviving tech week together is a slightly more intense yet equal equivalent.

It’s been a long time since I was able to partake in this crazy Christmas tradition, but every time I hear “Carol of the Bells”, I feel a piece of the magic come back again. The bells remind me that during that special time God really did bless us, every one.

The Prayer In The Ritual

Our first post on Rituals comes from our long-time reader, and author of The Strategic Learner, John Smith, who is a teacher and facilitator. He writes to us from the Midwest about the power of rituals, and their to God for him and his family. His post offers a beautiful wisdom about the living prayers that can be encompassed in our rituals.

As a child, I was part of a small family living on a farm in the country, so many of our rituals were unique to us. I recognize now that the unique blend of personalities through my father, mother, younger brother, and I shaped many of these customs. We were living the Smith Family version of life.

As I grew out into the larger world, I found other families with other rituals, some of which appeared vaguely familiar, my rituals “with a twist”, and some of which were downright alien to my eyes. I found myself sometimes comforted, especially by the rituals and behaviors of large families, which showed glimpses of a different world. I came to define family differently: No such thing as ex-relatives, in-laws, or step-anything in our family. You are simply part of the family. With seven children, six grandchildren, and a host of other family members, we now create our own rituals.

When our children were small, we created a ritual around sending them out into the world every day by saying to each in turn “Be good, be safe, be smart, be careful, be happy.” The exact order might vary and at some point, as the world became increasingly troubled, we added “ … and be a force for good in the world.”

The ritual was ingrained and practiced on a daily basis, so we sometimes found ourselves saying the words without thinking about them. We might be rushed or thinking too far ahead of where we were in our day. When this happened, things felt a little off-balance, and I sometimes found myself turning around, walking back, or retracing my driving route, because saying those words intentionally was important.

The mantra we used, like other’s little rituals, served two important and related purposes. Firstly, a reminder to our children of what was important in life, both for themselves and for others. Secondly, our ritual functioned as a prayer by us to God on behalf of our children, that they develop the strength and wisdom to live strongly.

A ritual can be your words, actions, or thoughts. Sometimes a simple gesture, such as touching someone’s hair as you greet them, conveys strong emotion and connection. At other times, a more formal acknowledge of connection exists and we do so through such events as weddings, birthday parties, and funerals.

For me, the core of a ritual is not the magnitude of the behavior, but the meaning behind the words and the actions. I am struck by how often my spiritual beliefs guide my rituals. God helps me, and my family, create meaningful repetitive actions, which both teach and comfort. For me, these rituals have provided bonds between the important people in my life, over years, over distances, and over lifespans.

Seeking Submissions: Rituals

It is that time again! A time for gifts, holidays, candles and festivals! Here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are dedicating this month to the theme of Rituals. Rituals can be as small as what we eat for breakfast, or saying a prayer before dinner, or they can be as grand as a Christmas pageant, or lighting the menorah, either way they are an important part of almost every life, of almost every spiritual journey. Looking at our rituals will give us all new wisdom and insight during this busy season,  so we are asking for your submissions on rituals this month.

If you are stuck for where to start your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What are your daily rituals? How do they affect your life?
  2. How do rituals help you on your spiritual journey?
  3. How do rituals help you cope with pain, tragedy, or loss?
  4. How have you changed your rituals to reflect your life, your passions and your sense of justice?

We want to know! The world wants to hear your wisdom!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni