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.

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All are Welcome

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This is a story that is quite personal.  It involves my home church, and our struggle together to witness the equality God has shown us. This is not a story with a happy ending, or a story that is meant to chastised. This is the story about how I asked my church to marry me, and how this request was denied.  This is a story about what it means to ask for radical welcome.

When I joined the Disciples of Christ Christian church, I left behind a church where, as a woman, I was seen as unequal, and where I couldn’t embrace me whole self. Living now, far away from the home church that denied me the nothing except the one thing I asked for aloud I have come to face the heart breaking reality that although I still firmly believe in a Jesus who would have fought the police at Stonewall and a God that suffered along side Matthew Shepard, my faith in humanity finds itself on softer ground.

I several years ago, I asked this welcoming church to bless the marriage of my same-sex partner and I. There was hesitation. There was discussion, there was love, there was support, and then there was an answer. That answer was “no”.  The church continued to journey towards a place where that answer might someday be “yes” for someone else. But the truth remains, before I came along, no one stood for me. Before I asked these questions no one asked. Before I argued, no one made a peep. I do not mean to imply that I was alone among my fellow chruch-goers in my sexuality, far from it in fact. But the de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of many christian churches, where LGBTQ people are not shamed, but not welcomed, meant that I had to be the one to ask, and I had to be denied.

My favorite Disciples of Christ quote is etched on the side of my home church. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Indeed this is the quote most often shown to me as a claim that I must not force any church to be open and affirming of LGBTQ people. Yet, when one looks closely at this argument, it becomes clear that despite the importance of “all are welcome”, welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identity is actually not essential. Thus, I use this quote to disagree, to advocate that welcoming everyone means equality is essential in the eyes of God.

As long as the single most important essential of disciples doctrine remains “all are welcome”, then in fact, there can be no questioning, no doubt. In all things we must offer charity, we must always have our hearts, our hearths and our doors open. What I offer you, I cannot deny to the person who asks me next. Acceptance of all people, blessing of all unions, welcoming of even our enmities is an essential tenant of Christianity, or at least it is an essential tenant of any Christianity I want to believe in. As people who beleive in the radical love of God, the impossible expanse of God’s welcomeness, we must let everyone participate equally. This radical equality means we must love and accept all who enter our churches’ doors, and it means LGBTQ people must be allows to participate in every ritual of the church. It also means that as LGBTQ people, we cannot deny ourselves access to being full members of our faith groups, nor can we deny ourselves the freedom to be open and honest with our fellow church members about who we are.  Finally, the radical love of God insists on all of us, that we not wait for someone else to ask for justice, whether we are part of LGBTQ communities or not, we all must demand that our faith communities act with justice, act with love, act with radical welcome.

My faith in human nature now rest, as it often does, on the next generation, and in the fact that, despite the outcome of my personal request I have done my part. I have ensure that when the next generation stands, they will not do so alone.  They will be able to look back on this moment, when I asked, you denied me..will you deny them too? They will know that someone, hopefully many someones, have stood up for the radical love that Jesus preached, and asked again and again until their voices were heard, “When will you truly welcome me to the table?”

The Top 10 Tradition

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring tradition without addressing the “Top Ten” tradition. As 2013 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2013. Even though we have only selected ten, (hey! it’s tradition!), the top thing to remember from 2013 that everyone’s journey is special and filled with wisdom, love …and lint.

  1. A Crazy World — A beautiful post about life and loss in war-torn Syria
  2. Mosaic — An artistic representation of the beauty and the diversity of humanity
  3. Eating our Values — A post about living one’s values through what one chooses to eat
  4. Creating Spirituality — A poignant post about religion, creativity and spiritual experiences
  5. In Defense of Prayer — A story about grief, confusion, prayer and atheism
  6. Doomsday for DOMA — A post that marks the end of the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States
  7. Heifer International and My Brother’s Gifts —  A sweet post about keeping a loved one’s spirit alive
  8. Manu Temple — A post from Jenni Taylor about a beautiful exchange in India
  9. Strangers and Angels — a post from Autumn Elizabeth about a beautiful exchange in Chicago
  10. The Proverbial Women —  the post that started it all…

Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Hamilton Wright Mabie once said,

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.

No matter what you are celebrating at this time of year, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you. We are also thankful for hugs, for hot chocolate, and for the love being shared around the world.

We invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What’s your thankful thought?

Mary’s New Tradition

By: Autumn Elizabeth

“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:18-19

We have reached the pinnacle.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas have prepared our hearts, our streets, our homes, and our churches for this very moment. Jesus, Emmanuel, Messiah, born again for us, and we are amazed. We tell it on mountains, sing it with the heavenly hosts, and proclaim it with the shepherds. We have a thousand and one traditions to celebrate this very moment.

But what about Mary? Luke writes, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Why does Mary take this moment to herself? Why doesn’t she celebrate with the rest?

Many people may point out that she has just given birth and must be exhausted, or perhaps her reaction is simply of little consequence in the grand scheme.  But Luke makes no qualms about the importance of Mary. In fact, it is Luke who provides the basis for the classic understanding of the Virgin Mary. Luke gives Mary a voice to accept God’s totally insane plan for her to bring forth God’s child.  I believe Mary’s meditation is meant to be something more than a small sidebar for the manger madness. So what does her response to the shepherds tidings of great joy tell us? What does it mean for us now as we hear this good news again, in the midst of hubbub and chaos of the season?

In a meeting with some infinitely wise young people after the first Sunday in advent I asked the question, “what are you hopeful for this advent season?”. I was intent on inspiring these young people to think about hope and its implications as we waited for Christmas. After giving a very thoughtful yet unexpected answer, one youth return the question to me, “ What are you hopeful for this Advent season?”  I paused. I racked my brain for the right answer, one that would be profound and inspirational. Then I realized, I didn’t have that answer, or any answer for that matter.  I had been so busy rejoicing that I forgot to reflect.  Had I proffered one too many Merry Christmas’s without really thinking about what blessing I was sending forth?  I had somehow myself with so many Christmas traditions that I had ignored the still small voice of the baby Jesus.  I was so wrapped up in what I was supposed to be doing that I forgot to take time to reflect, and understand the joy I was professing.

To preach joy without feeling it, to teach faith without believing it, these are signs of hypocrisy and Jesus was no friend to the hypocrite. So perhaps on the night of his birth, Jesus’ mother was showing me a wise and daring way to avoid being hypocrites while more fully understanding and owning my own joy.

I have much to celebrate in the birth of Jesus, in the life of  Jesus, and the his death and resurrection, but before I celebrate outwardly, I must reflect inwardly. I like to think that Mary eventually joined in the wild manger birthday party, but first she reflected, and she prayed. Mary didn’t do what was traditional or easy, but she made sure that when she sang of the arrival of the Jesus her words would reflect a deep inner understanding of the gifts God gave the world through Jesus.

So on this still winter night, despite the rustling wrapping paper and the familiar chorus of carols, apart from all of the traditions of this season, may each of us find a moment of quiet where we can behold the many joys of this season, and this year, reflect upon them.

Loose Thread: Thankful Thoughts

Albert Schweitzer  once said,

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

For our part, we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are, as always, grateful for all of you for being the people who “rekindle the inner spirit.” Thank you for being part of this community And sharing your ideas, your spirit, and your traditions.

We invite you to share something you are thankful for with the community of Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

What prayer of thanks do you want to share this week?

The Island of Misfit Thinkers

In this guest post, Hailey Kaufman tells us about a new tradition she began at her university. For students whose belief is unbelief, this tradition provides a safe place for questioning, discussing, and brain-bending. It shows us that friendship, support, and belonging can be found for misfit thinkers, even outside the confines of traditional religion. 

Every Tuesday night, I take a few hundred steps across campus to Webster University’s shiny new business building. By this time of night I’ve given up on my cute girl disguise and thrown on something comfortable: knee socks, moccasins, and almost unfailingly a pair of breezy Thai pants. There is never much to carry with me, just my ideas and assumptions.

The building smells of paint and briefcases. Night class attendees are filtering out, heading to their cars in the parking garage across the street. I wind around the hallways until I find a handful of people lingering at the front of Room 102. They draw on the marker board, leaving blasphemous messages in the corners for students to discover the next day. They have the projector on, and they’re watching something that tickles their remorseless sense of humor – or just videos of kittens.

Eventually we decide to discuss whatever was agreed upon, and a few tables are arranged into a cluster. We gather around them and talk. For some of us, this is the only room on campus, maybe even in our lives as a whole, where we are safe in our skepticism. We can express our most controversial doubts and revel in whatever we find moving, all without fear of scoffs or criticism for being “disrespectful”.

By the time we check our watches (if we haven’t already been kicked out of this room we never reserve) it’s eleven at night. For an hour and a half we’ve chattered, made propositions, disagreed, laughed, maybe even become angry. Some of us leave with unchanged convictions, some with notebooks full of new ideas hastily scratched in before they could escape us.

I walked into my college career determined to join a club of secular students. In the end, with the help of a news-savvy fallen Catholic, a wistful science enthusiast, and another introverted freshman looking for a community, I had to create my own.

Gradually, one person at a time, we developed a small group of regulars. A vegan punk rocker, an anglophilic rat owner, a poet with a Cheetohs addiction, a wannabe viking with a scar through his eyebrow. While I had always sought to model it after a much larger, more seasoned club elsewhere, it refused to become anything other than what it should have been: an island of misfit thinkers.

While the secular movement struggles to develop non-religious communities, young people across the country are working on a small scale, crawling into discussion burrows and talking amongst themselves. Sometimes they crawl out to broadcast their thoughts and values, but there’s something wonderful about talking in small circles. That’s where minds are changed. It’s where budding skeptics can feel true purpose, and a kind of intellectual intimacy, in the domain where religion is absent.

This has become my tradition – one of thought, humor, and camaraderie – and I wouldn’t trade it for all the free Tuesday nights in the world.

Blooming Bridges

Today’s guest post for our Traditions theme comes from artist and social activist Yvonne Osei. Originally from Ghana and now graduated from Webster University in Saint Louis, Yvonne connects diversity,human complexities, and humanitarian issues to show the beautiful tradition of togetherness and cultural belonging across borders and boundaries.  More of her phenomenal work can be found at  her website

 Blooming Bridges
 
 
 
Artwork Details
Name: Blooming Bridges
Medium: Photography
Size: 20″ by 30″
Description: “Blooming Bridges” reflects diversity through a range of skin tones, hand gestures and vibrant colors coming together to enunciate ideas of connectivity. The work is a commentary on human solidarity in a contemporary world that continues to share ideas on a global scale.

The photograph was taken during a performance with four individuals from diverse cultures. They each had a different color in their hands and a task to interact with one another. The underlying principle was to make a mark on others metaphorically showing how several influences come to play in collective art making. Through the blends of color and outburst of energy in the varying movements of hands, there is a resounding affirmation of unity formed.

The title “Blooming Bridges” captures positivity and growth in the act of joining these separate hands as one entity, as each hand plays a vital part in building support systems for the others.

 
 

Everyone Loves Hot Chocolate

By: Jenni Taylor

It was my first Christmas away from my family. I was used to White Christmases, or at least cold ones, coating the windows with frost on the south side of Chicago. Now, I was in the depths of the jungle in a tiny city of Peru.

I was visiting my friend, Deysi, for our usual lunch together.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked. Her eyes lit up.

“I’m throwing a Chocolatada,” she said. She went into the other room and came back with an enormous box full of toy airplanes, barbies, and plastic whistles. “I’ve been saving up for it all year.”

She went on to explain that those who had the means would throw a Chocolatada in their neighborhood- a party with toys, bread rolls, and yes, hot chocolate galore. It was made for children who might otherwise not have a Christmas.

When the day came, Deysi was at her best. The pot of hot chocolate was big enough for a bathtub, and had bits of cinnimon sticks poking out of the thick, hot liquid. She placed a sparkly pink sign outside her door reading “Jesus te Ama”, Jesus Loves You, and a Santa Clause pinata. The toys she had shown me were already wrapped and ready, sitting in large piles all over the kitchen table.

The Chocolatada was set for 3pm. Kids began to arrive at noon.

“Tia Deysi, is it ready? Is it ready?” They would ask, smashing their faces through the grate on the door. “Not yet, not yet, have some patience!” She would reply.

It couldn’t come soon enough. When things were finally ready, children and their mothers sat on the few wooden seats placed outside, or stood in the shade out of the hot sun. A small radio with speakers began to blast Christmas carols.

We began to hand out the Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, bread rolls, and toys. Soon boys were zooming around the dirt road with toy airplanes in hand, and girls were setting up games with their new dolls. The Santa Clause pinata came down in an explosion of glitter and small candies. The children had magic in their eyes.

It was only hot chocolate, really. But it was enough to change the world for these children, even if only for a day. Soon each child had wandered off back home, and the chocolate pot was empty and smelling of cinnamon.

“Worth every penny,” Deysi said. “Here, have the last cup.”Photo by Jenni Taylor

The Other Half of Prayer

By: Jenni Taylor

Guest blogger Hailey Kaufman wrote a beautiful post a few months back about prayer, and in it she brought up an argument, one that I have had with myself more times than I can count. Hailey asked: “If God has a plan for everything, then all the imploring in the world won’t change it; and even if he had no path laid out, what would my opinions and ideas mean compared to his?”

I’ll be the first to say it. Prayer doesn’t make sense. Despite being part of the long Christian tradition of prayer I can’t answer all the questions I have about it. Can we change God’s will with our thoughts?  If we can’t change God’s will, what’s the point of it all anyway?

I’m no theologian. I’ve prayed more meaningless prayers in my life than most people, growing up in church and all. The traditional dinner-time prayer…“Bless this food to our bodies..” Yeah, like that one was really full of sincerity when I was 10 at the dinner table just wanting to dig into my mac and cheese. But putting aside the meaningless ones, and remembering the real ones…well, they have marked me. Changed my life. Made me a better person.

I don’t always have words for prayer; in fact, I usually don’t. It’s something more like reaching out my soul to touch something else. I think many of us, myself included, forget that when we are touching something, it’s touching us right back.

A wise man once told me to stop praying with so many words and just shut up for a minute. Was I listening? Really listening? With me shouting questions at God, did I ever give him a chance to answer? Most of my sincere prayers were usually pretty angry ones, whatever the case was at the time. And that’s legit. Sometimes I just needed to yell at the universe. But the most beautiful times in my life were the tiny moments when I really did shut up and listen, even for a split second. So, go ahead, ask the hard questions. But do yourself a favor and try the listening half, too. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.