Ritual is routine infused with mindfulness. It is habit made holy.
The quote above is in a book by Kent Nerburn entitled Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life. Ritual becomes routine, or even a rut, when it is thoughtlessly done. The habits we develop in life can become holy if we pay close attention to what we are doing.
I have mentioned here before about some of my daily habits like prayer and journaling. However, Nerburn is not writing about things like this that seem important or vital. No, he is picturing small graces or quiet gifts.
He illustrates what he means with a morning ritual.
I take my morning mug of coffee in both hands and lift it ever so slightly toward the sky. I am alone. There is no one to see. This is my private gesture–my acknowledgement, my offering, my moment of thankfulness for the gift of this awakening day. . . . My morning cup of coffee . . . partaken with mindfulness . . . is a small act of worship, an act of consecration, a prayer of thankfulness to the awakening day.
I also have a morning habit. When I first get out of bed, I go the the sink in our restroom. I turn on the facet, running water into my hands, and I rinse my face three times, practicing an ancient Celtic Christian ritual. With the first, I say silently, “in the name of the Father.” With the second, “and the Son”. With the third, “and the Holy Spirit, I welcome this day.” Now here is the key to making a routine into a ritual or a habit into something holy. I must think about what I am saying. And I must mean what I say. I confess that some mornings, I just got through the motions and what I do had no spiritual blessing about it at all. But when I am mindful in doing it, the morning begins with a touch of holiness.
If you have some little ritual that you do most days, I would love to hear about it in a comment. If you don’t have any, perhaps you will be able to discover one that can be a daily blessing–if done mindfully.
ritual is like rich soil
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Last year, I wrote several blogs on the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father). It is certainly the most prayed prayer in the history of Christianity. Many churches use it every Sunday. Many individuals pray it daily. I am one of those.
The truth about praying prayers created or written by someone else is that, it is possible to say the words and not think about them. In order to really pray these prayers, we must learn to pray them with intention. This means pay attention to what we are saying.
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain phrases from the Lord’s Prayer have become filled with new meaning for me. When I pray them with intention, I am brought more closely into the presence of God.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I think about God’s desire for love to rule the day on earth as it surely does in heaven. So, in that phrase, is the implicit request for an increase in compassion on earth.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” I remember all the lines of people waiting for food in this time of scarcity and joblessness. They become a part of my concern.
“Let us not fall to temptation.” (This is the phrase I picked up from Roman Catholics which seems clearer than “Lead us not into temptation.) Two temptations are especially prevalent in today’s world; a temptation to despair and a temptation to anger. Both can be found in sad abundance, though the second one is more likely to rise in my heart. So, my concern for the emotional and spiritual welbeing of others and myself highlight this phrase.
Finally, there is “deliver us from evil.” I think of the evil of the virus and I think of the evil of divisiveness in American society. Both call for deliverance.
May praying the Lord’s Prayer bring you closer to God and to God’s will for your life.
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Last time we considered the occurrence of awakening in the mystic path–that happening in our lives when we become awake to the divine or God’s presence all around us. Today’s topic is not as exciting, but I hope not to lose any readers!
According to the mystics once we are awakened to the glory of God, we can become aware of our own imperfections. The path to ultimate union with God leads through a period (or probably periods) of purification.
Some of our imperfections are caused by our environment. Another way to say that is that we are impacted by sin. On the other hand, some of our imperfections are the result of our own bad choices. Or, we commit sin, e.g. we nurture wrong desires or do wrong things.
Our imperfections may appear in a variety of forms. Not being able to distinguish right from wrong is an imperfection in our intellect. When we can’t seem to make a decision or stick to those resolutions we do make, this is an imperfection in our will. Regularly struggling with unhealthy feelings points to an imperfection in our emotional center.
I have largely avoided talking about ‘sin’ because the word has been wildly misused over the years. When I was a young person growing up in rural Alabama in the 50s and 60s, dancing was considered a sin in some circles! And going to the movies on a Sunday was a definite taboo.
Nevertheless, the word sin still has value when we consider the imperfections in our moral center. Jesus taught us to love one another, which means seeking the other person’s welbeing. When we fail to do that, we are imperfect or we are sinners.
Mystics have suggested a threefold way of purification that can help us along the path to union with God. First is contrition–a sense of sorrow for our imperfections or sins. Second is a full confession–acknowledging, at least to ourselves, that we are not perfect. Third is the resolve to change. Of course, for Christian mystics, all of this is done in the presence of God who is ready to forgive and to help us grow into the divine nature.
Last month I promised to share some practices that have been used to polish the divine image or fan the divine spark within us. My problem was where to start. Truthfully, I could begin with almost any of the practices, but the Season made the choice for me.
In the month of December the song Silent Night, Holy Night will be sung, played and listened to throughout America and indeed the world. So, I begin this series writing about silence as a spiritual practice.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5 This is one of several passages of scripture that affirm silence, often as a sign of trust.
The value of silence is at least two-fold. It helps us to slow down; to recollect ourselves. It seems especially important now in the hectic Christmas Season, but also in the heated political atmosphere that we breathe everyday.
It also helps us to listen–to listen to God, to others, and to our own inner self. The one who talks much, listens little.
As a spiritual practice, silence refers to sitting in God’s presence in silence. If you’ve not done it before, try doing it for just 10 minutes. If your mind begins to wander, recollect yourself with a short prayer like, “I trust in you”.
In the Christmas carol, holiness is born in silence. If we are faithful to practice times of silence perhaps the light within will begin to burn more brightly.
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The medieval mystics called it a divine spark. The Quakers named it inner light. The Bible pictured it as the image of God. It is in all of us.
Some might want to argue this fact. How, they might say, can anyone believe this in a world dominated by hatred, violence, and darkness? Perhaps some, but surely not all, have something of God within them. Others might look at their own lives, shake their heads, and deny it could be true of them with all their insecurities and troubling doubts.
Still there are voices that continue to affirm the ancient truth. One is Pastor Steven Garnaas-Holmes who writes a regular piece under the internet tag “Unfolding Light”. Recently here is part of what he shared:
- You are the living image
- of the Lovely One.
- God is the sun of love within you.
- Vessel of divine light,
- you bear this magnificence into the world.
- This can’t be changed or diminished.
- Let this be your confidence, your hope,
- your courage
The problem most of us face is that the image is so faint or the spark so dim that we can hardly see it at all. And neither can those around us. So, the question arises: how can we polish the image or fan the spark? What can we do that will help the inner light or sun of love shine more brightly, not simply for ourselves, but for a world seemingly enveloped in darkness?
In the next few months, I hope to share about some practices or disciplines that I have found helpful in my own spiritual growth, but more importantly that have been affirmed by persons far more advanced than me in the spiritual life.