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.