The Art of Ritual in Your Daily Life
When I wake up each morning, the first thing I do is brew a rich black cup of coffee (so strong, in fact, that my husband refuses to drink it). In the evening, I drink hot peppermint tea, a parallel—nevertheless reverse—ritual. At some point in the day, I try to sweat. I jog, walk, or take a steaming bubble bath. Each day I read something mentally stimulating (just bought Thiselton’s collected works on hermeneutics) and something creative (currently Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature). I have weekly rituals, too. By Saturday night, I’ll have written a new poem, a habit I’ve practiced for the past three years. On Sunday, I worship, observing the Sabbath. These are only a few of my rituals. Can you list some of yours?
Why These Rituals?
For most of us, ritual is implicit—embedded within our lives without much notice. Yet, even if you are aware of some of your rituals, can you answer the question “why these rituals”? Are they merely the pulp spilling out of your life, natural excess, marrow holding together the skeletal frame of your days and years? Or did you choose them, intentionally forming habits? Do they add symmetry to your life? Do they get you where you want to go? Do you like them? Or better yet, do you love them?
When unnoticed, rituals can feel like a natural part of a sequence of cause and effect. The fact that you wake up at 5:00 a.m. to go to the gym may seem inconsequential. You have to be at work by eight, right? So why does your coworker have an entirely different morning ritual? Why do you do what you do? Because ritual is personal and corresponds with identity. While reading a book every day (and not just a book in general, but that particular book) may seem insignificant or even mechanical, this ritual builds over time, making us who we will be, while at the same time, flowing from who we are. The rituals in your life reveal your heart and soul.
Who—or What—Are You Becoming?
Somewhere in the ebb and flow of life—day and night, week and weekend, work and rest, as days pass into years—you are becoming someone. Often we think of our identity in terms of achievements, life goals—becoming something. But what about that which is lasting? But what about virtue, justice, and courage? Whatever happened to those knights who died because virtue was everything to them? What about who you are? A someone, rather than a something.
Surely at the end of my life, my love for coffee in the morning will result (in good Eliot fashion, or rather, good Prufrock fashion), in the measuring of my life with coffee spoons:
For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
(T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” stanza 8)
How Are You Measuring Your Life?
Yet, I hope there will be more with which to measure my life. I hope my rituals will show deeper loves and cultivate me into a better lover of God and his creation. Our confession as believers is that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. In a vast and grand narrative greater than any individual life, we are drawn toward a greater purpose than we could have envisioned alone—union with the very Lover of our souls. May our rituals reflect this purpose and point to the God who loves us and has called us Beloved.