Making Sacred: Rituals, Blessings, & Ceremony
THE POSTURE OF GRACE…
Over the past year, many of us have been feeling tremendous sadness and grief. The pandemic was a collective trauma we experienced, and with everything that is happening in our communities, in the world, and everything that is happening to our ecosystems and planets, our souls have taken a toll. And I don’t believe this society and this faith tradition has given us the proper tools to deal with our suffering.
Grief work is sacred work. It’s the work that ripe, mature human beings are asked to do; it’s an initiation of sorts to a different stage of our humanity. But it’s hard hard work; that’s why:
we need support to do our grief work, and that’s
we need rituals that provide containers for it.
Almost every indigenous culture around the world has used rituals to keep us healthy, to help us endure, to stay resilient. Rituals are intentional practices that put us face to face, daily, with what truly matters, so that we don’t lose touch with it.
In working with Grief, some of us have found that rituals provide two things:
- Containment and (2) Release
A container is a space that holds our grief, in the same way that a riverbank provides a container to keep the flood of the water from spilling over the rest of the land; the ritual provides a container where the waters of our grief can flow safely without taking over our entire lives.
A container can be a weekly session with a therapist or a weekly conversation with a dear friend, or a grief-support group. Because, when our grief is held by others in such a container, we are able to release it; in that embrace of community, we begin to lighten the heaviness of grief.
However, when community is absent from our lives and we lack those containers, we become the containers of grief ourselves, which is dangerous; grief with its heaviness can weight us down; grief, with the sheer force of its raging waters can take over the landscape of our lives.
And so, rituals become essential!
Both, communal and personal rituals are essential for our health and the health of our communities, but our western society has forgotten the language of rituals, and we are now having to re-learn that language.
Rituals speak directly to a part of our brain that words alone do not reach. The language of rituals is understood in the “deepest layers of our humanity.” We were designed like that!
Our human brains are also wired to remember what we do often. The first time we practice something, the brain immediately creates a new neural pathway; and the more we practice that, the deeper that neural pathway gets. Like the first time you go sledding down the hill in the morning after a snowstorm; at first there are no pathways, and then you make a new path on the fresh snow, and the more you go down that path, the deeper the path becomes.
It’s like a brain creates a map of the experience for us to access at any time. And so, a ritual that our brain can return to almost automatically when we are overwhelmed with the raging waters of grief, can be feel an island, a little refuge where we can feel protected; it’s an important place of respite.
We are beginning to understand the absolute necessity of rituals, but again, in this society, we are not well educated in the ways of ritual.
A ritual is not a habit or a routine, something we do like a robot.
A Ritual is “a solemn ceremony.”
What we are looking for when creating a ritual is intentionality, meaning, and reverence.
A ritual is a commitment that we make that says: “this practice matters to my humanity;
this puts me in touch with something essential!
THAT is why I’m intentional about giving this my time and my attention daily.”
Whether your personal ritual is a meditation or yoga practice,
or journaling, or creating beauty, or being in communion with a favorite spot in nature; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do have at least one personal ritual to sustain you when things get rough. A ritual is not something we desperately pick up when things get rough (although it’s never late to begin a practice.) Ideally, a ritual is something we do that that will sustain us when life becomes too much.
Prayer can be a ritual. As someone who grew up without religion, I always had a weird relationship with prayers. Because prayers were not a part of my childhood, it was hard for me to pick up the practice as an adult. I know many people who feel that way.
It wasn’t until seminary that I was able to claim prayers, blessings, and rituals, because of how they enrich our lives and calm our nervous system.
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
Prayers and blessings are really about sanctifying a moment with the beauty of words and the posture of grace.
This morning would be like any morning, but by gathering here, in the mystery of the hour, gathered here, with the posture of grace, we have sanctify this moment.
One of our Unitarian Universalist Patron Saints (if we had such a thing) is Sophia Lyons Fah, who said something profound once: She believed that life becomes religious when we make it so.
This moment would be just another moment but our stopping to take the posture of grace, has made this moment religious.
Prayers, blessings are an art form, that, like poetry, uses language to bring the invisible world to the forefront, evoking emotional responses in us and giving meaning to the moment.
That prayer is like poetry. It uses language to bring the invisible world to the forefront, evoking emotional responses in us and giving meaning to the moment.
A prayer or a blessing is a form of ceremony.
A blessing in particular evokes feelings of safety and protection.
This blessing from the poet John Odonohue evokes in us those feelings of protection:
“On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.”
Prayers can be an invitation or an invocation.
An invitation to deepen
… an invocation of what we find sacred.
They can also be a form of gratitude or praise
A prayer can be an expression of a longing, from the deepest part of our being:
Often, for me, that looks like this: “Pretty please please please PLEASE.”
Gratitude is also form of prayer
Most of the times that looks like this: “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!”
Prayer can be silence:
I once heard a poet say that she needs to get “quiet enough to feel held; to feel the embrace of the divine.”
In her book “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” Anne Lamot says that yes, as the title of the book says: there are three essential prayers:
“Help!” “Thanks” and “WOW”
I love that last one. I never realized that our radical amazement can be a form of prayer.
She says in the book that “…the three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you.”
That’s some good wisdom there.
“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real, really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.”
“So prayer is our sometimes-real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light – I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.
Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.”
That’s the end of that quote.
This is what I know. Prayers bring us closer to what truly matter. And blessings are like a warm blanket that we wrap around people, for them to feel protected and cared for by us.
I’ve also been thinking about this:
What if God is Love?
What if we are like the earth and Love is like that sun, and we orient to love as the central force in our lives?
What if we created rituals and practices and ceremonies that put us in touch with God/Love?
What would that look like?
What if we saw Love as a practice of Liberation as the black feminist and social activist Bell Hooks puts it.
“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberates ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.”
I’m so, thinking about all of this, I’m wondering:
What our personal lives be like if we choose to pray more and to bless everything single thing?
What if we choose to live our lives as a ceremony, with a posture of reverence?
How would our inner lives look?
How would our lives look?
How would our societies look?
May we consider living a life with the posture of grace.
May it be so!