The last few months I have become intrigued with these three ideas and the part they play in my life and the part I’d like them yet to play. As a young adult, I thought people with routines were boring, rituals were all pagan and paying attention to the rhythms of nature or life were mystical and therefore, silly or just plain wrong. Thank goodness I have evolved a bit from those stereotypes!
I think it was last year some time when I became consciously aware that I was creating some very comforting and lovely rituals around holidays and seasons; decorating ideas and also just some things I started doing at certain times of the year that I really liked and were fun. Things like wearing only pink, red and white the whole week of Valentine’s Day and setting the most beautiful pink and white table for dinner that night and inviting someone over! Or finding I had 7 pairs of earrings with crosses in them to wear the week of Easter. I don’t decorate for every holiday but I definitely do for Fall and for Christmas and I love it. My home becomes even more cozy and nurturing those times of year.
Then I found myself being drawn to books about spiritual rituals, rhythms and routines for the first time. In the meeting church these ideas weren’t talked about much (if at all). We thought using any kind of repetition such as reading the same thing at the same time in a meeting or having some ritual you used in your private quiet time like always reading a devotional before you pray or lighting a candle would not help God draw near to us when all along the purpose of rituals is to get us to draw near to God. This is why spiritual people often use rituals and as long as that is accomplished (we draw near to God) then I honestly don’t think He cares how we go about it. Rituals can also be very comforting and calming in the midst of life that sometimes feels like it is spinning out of control and where so many things are constantly changing. “Rituals can provide a structure that grounds us. They can also make us feel safe, reducing stress.” (From The Comfort of Rituals http://www.womens-transformation.com)
Some spiritual rituals I either do or have friends who practice them are things like reading a certain Psalm each night before going to bed or first thing in the morning. Lighting a candle at the beginning of your quiet time. Reading a specific written prayer back to God; a prayer that someone else has written. One of my current favorite books of prayer is called Yours is the Day, Lord; Yours is the Night by Jeanie and David Gushee. The authors have collected hundreds of prayers from hundreds of years and arranged them in a format of one prayer for morning and one for evening for the entire year. They are amazing, rich and deep prayers. Some people read from a devotional each day.
Another new favorite book of mine is “Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community. It is a collection of liturgies, prayers and meditations inspired by traditional Celtic Christianity from the sixth and seventh centuries.
The ingrained teaching against such things in the meeting church was that those kinds of books would only be filled with vain repetitions. (Matthew 6:7) Well, what did Jesus mean when He said that? As I’ve said, the prayers are amazing, rich and deep. There is nothing wrong with the prayers. They are sincere, and most are short and succinct. God is never far from us (Acts 17:27) so again, praying them is not to bring God close to us but to turn our hearts towards Him. It becomes vain repletion if we say them without feeling or to impress God somehow. Having eloquent prayers isn’t the goal but these prayers often express things far better than I ever could and I use them as a prelude to my own prayers.
Another extremely fascinating book I’ve just finished reading is Mudhouse Sabbath; an invitation to a life of spiritual discipline by Lauren F. Winner. The author was raised a Jew but became a Christian. In this book she is reexamining “the rich traditions and spiritual practices of Judaism and discovers ways she could incorporate some of them into her new life.”
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our lives for spiritual transformation by Ruth Haley Barton is another intriguing book on the subject of rhythms. The beauty of rhythms and routines is that they are not set in stone; they are different for everyone. We can draw from many sources and create our own. We do not need to be clones. I’m reading a fascinating book called Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. The author has collected daily routines from dozens of artists of all kinds. All are different yet most of the artists (mostly writers) kept the same routine for years so that they might produce their art at the best time of day for them.
Then there is Advent; the 4 weeks prior to Christmas that some churches adhere to. I really like this one. It’s all about preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas; the birth of Christ. So what if we don’t know the exact date Jesus was born; the point is that we don’t forget. Yes, we are to remember each time we come together to worship in the act of taking the emblems and we do, but there is nothing like a concentrated month of that like nothing else we do. Discovering and participating in Advent helped me like nothing else to put the Christ back in Christmas.
I wrote in my journal a few weeks ago: “I have been reading about liturgies and rhythms to life; to my spiritual life in particular. I have a rhythm to my natural life that really works for me and a sort of rhythm to my spiritual life but I want much more because I want to feel closer to God.” A quote from Sacred Rhythms perhaps sums up why: “Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you.”
In the meeting church there were some rhythms and routines; quiet time in the morning, slowing everything down on Saturday night to begin to prepare for Sunday, the whole day Sunday was spent in a definite rhythm; meeting, Sunday dinner around the table with family and friends, visiting, Gospel meeting. Many tasks were laid aside for Sunday. There were yearly routines; special meeting and convention. They were good things but those good things can become legalistic (as can any ritual) if we are convinced we have to do them in order to please God. Again, it’s a switch of focus off of us and on to God. I just want to encourage my readers to pursue and seek out other, fresher ways to prepare your heart and spirit for communion with God. It is SO refreshing to do so and can make that time come alive.
When a person leaves something as major as the meeting church, it leaves a vacuum in your life and you will fill that vacuum with something. If you do not fill that vacuum with a living and passionate pursuit of God, you will fill it with pleasures, things from the world, with bitterness, cynicism, or apathy. Don’t forget those words of Jesus about this very thing in Matthew 12:43-45.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
One last thought to consider: It is possible to let any ritual, rhythm or routine become just that: routine. An empty form. Something to fulfill out of sense of “have to”. If that happens, we’ve fallen right back into what we worked so hard to escape from: legalism.
Routines and rituals are to be comforting and nurturing. Always remember that. They are definitely worth pursuing in this crazy, evil, wacky world we live in to have something that is the same, something solid that turns us back to God over and over again.