Rituals are actions that have symbolic value. They are a way of acting out in the physical world what we believe to be true in the spiritual world. They can focus our minds and direct our thoughts towards God. They can add beauty to our lives and comfort us. I wrote in an earlier post, Coveting the Metaphor, about how Sue Monk Kidd's conscious use of symbol and metaphor enhanced her spirituality and her life. I believe that the addition of small rituals can do the same.
To enhance my pursuit of intentional spirituality, I have added a few small rituals to my devotional time. First of all, I have set aside a certain place for my morning devotions. It's upstairs, just a comfortable chair in the corner of a bedroom, but it's a quiet place away from chores and TVs and the normal bustle of life. On one side of the chair is my Bible, the devotional/theological book I'm currently reading, and my journal; and on the other side is a table where I've placed a small candle. Before I begin, I light the candle. Next, I open my journal, date the entry, and then write down one thing for which I'm grateful. I don't make a huge list, although I could. I just wanted to establish a ritual that will encourage me to have a grateful heart. Next, I read a passage of scripture and choose one or two verses to copy into my journal, and make a few comments on these--why I chose what I did, the connection to my life, a realization I've just made, a prayer, anything I feel at the moment. Next, I read a chapter or so of the devotional book, copying any great lines or paraphrasing intriguing discoveries into my journal and commenting on them. Then, I pray. When I finish, I blow out the candle. Extinguishing the flame does not signal the end of my pursuit of God, but it is a ceremonial closing to a time of dedicated devotion.
The candle ritual works for me on several levels. It's beautiful and comforting. Because it signals a beginning and an end, it focuses my mind on the present and my purpose. The light of the candle has a metaphorical connection to God. The scent of the candle is reminiscent of the incense burned in the Old Testament, which symbolized the prayers of the saints. It is an intentional act performed for spiritual purposes.
If you have any rituals that you find beauty and joy in, I'd love for you to share them.
1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
From Marilynne Robinson's Gilead:
--I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice . . .
--The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like the poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love . . .
--I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love--I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence . . .