“The sacred is not in heaven or far away. It is all around us, and small human rituals can connect us to its presence.”
~ Alma Luz Villanueva
The rituals of our lives are the containers that hold our stories. They mark our most joyful celebrations and rites of passage; they bind us to one another in times of loss and grief; and they punctuate the seasons of each year and the whole arc of our lives. Reflecting on the most important rituals of our lives is a way of mapping our story. It also invites us to consider how ritual enhances our lives, deepens our lived experience, and opens up possibility.
- Begin with Gratitude. Take a moment once again to tune in to your breath and complete the phrase: “In this moment, I’m grateful…”
- Map Your Story. Once centered, we invite you to begin by considering how the rituals of your life to date tell your story. Going back to your childhood and chronicling your journey to now, which rituals have most profoundly shaped your journey? Which have marked an important transition or transformation in your life? Which have been healing for you? Which have taken place in community, and which have been an individual experience? Consider either written exploration of these questions or creating a visual map of your life’s journey, with rituals as the primary indicators of your path. What would such a map look like? A collage of photographs? A series of drawings? A meandering trail with words and phrases penciled in?
- Reflect. What has this process revealed about the value of ritual in your life? In what ways has ritual enriched and deepened your lived experience? When has it, perhaps, fallen short? When has it been healing or opened up connection and possibility? What aspects of ritual have been most important to you?
Faith by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
We invite you to share your reflections below.
Enjoy the full seven-day Tending the Rituals of Our Lives practice.
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Looking back over my life, I see how I craved rituals. I grew up in a place where almost everybody was a multi-generational Catholic and steeped in the rituals of that faith. My parents had broken away from that (and many other social norms), and from the outside looking in, it felt like I was missing out on the super-secret community decoder ring because we didn’t participate in the normal social rituals. Digging a little deeper, I think that I wanted the comfort of the predictability to help balance the UNpredictability of both my family life and my own slightly-wonky brain processing. (We didn’t call it “ADHD” back then.. they just said I was “flighty”). As I grew older and my own kids struggled with some of the same challenges, I believed that rituals could add some guardrails to our experience – AND I struggled to maintain them on my own.
Now, I see that the rituals which have finally taken root and sustained me are ones that bear almost no resemblance to much of what I see the people I know practicing, but they do provide me with a kind of trustworthy life map. When things get wonky (and they do.. human condition and all), I can rely on the rituals to provide touchstones for comfort in the consistency. I believe that the intentionality of ritual, different than the muscle memory of a habit (also important, just different) is the most important part of the practice. I’ve never liked “doing just for the sake of doing”, so having a valued “why” tucked into the process makes it resonate far more for me.
Rituals help me embrace the sacred in large events as for a graduation or celebration of new life. And also in the seemingly small “insignificant” moments of setting a gentle altar for honoring the beginning of the season of Lent. I made those preparations last evening for entering Ash Wednesday today. Although, I didn’t think of it as ritual at the time, as I reflect on today’s offering, it was indeed a ritual, and helps make sacred the beginning of this season. May it be so.
Going to church, holiday celebrations, taking trips to experience a different place, listening to gospel music on Sunday morning, listening to R&B when cleaning the house on Saturdays they were all routines and rituals too as I think back on them — all making up what has been my journey…
Christmas. That was always important to my parents. they are immigrants to this country. My mother never saw her mother again, so I feel all the rituals of Christmas came alive for her, then for us. The advent wreath, lighting the candles every Sunday, the cookies and cakes she would bake. She would sing Christmas songs, she sang anyway all the time. The Christmas tree put up after we went to bed when we were small, thinking St, Nicolas brought it. As we got older, it was set up on Christmas eve, after my Dad got home from work, we had a light supper, new pajamas to wear, cookies to eat. This always started on December 1 – always! We had special plates with our names on them filled with fruits, nuts and candies. The house was beautiful inside and out, warm and happy, and would stay that way until January. Her Birthday was December 18th, as we children got older, we made sure her birthday was not Christmas, but balloons, and birthday wrapping. December is my favorite month because of my Mom & Dad. I can’t wait until December first to decorate the house and bake and pass these feelings and rituals to my Daughter & Granddaughter to pass on. The beginning of a new year of hope, she believed. Easter was another special day with traditions from the old country, then Birthdays and summers…
Karin, thank you for sharing your meaningful & rich heritage. I’m enriched and feel like a family friend who has been invited Into the experience.
Church traditions have been the strongest ongoing source of ritual in my life and marked the passages in my life. Births, marriage, children, deaths and so on. In the last few years though, church has been more a symbol of oppression then growth, so I haven’t engaged in those rituals. Finding this site and participating in the community is one way of finding the spiritual in my life. But for current traditions… it’s family celebrations that mark my life journey. And as adult children find partners and grandchildren arrive and grow… the subtle changes to those family celebrations mark my own growth and aging.
One practice I try to make into a ritual is acts of self care. Right now I use a randomizer with lots of little things that I don’t take time for myself and do two or three a day.
Thank you Heather. I need the reminder that we can only love others if we love ourselves
I guess many things in my life have been unconscious ritual. My mother died last month. My heart hurts deeply. I’ve created a space and filled it with touchstones of love and sweet memories. So I’ve started a very conscious ritual here to help me heal and move on knowing she is always with me.
Jill, how can we extend an embrace thru words? May you have a growing sense of peace. Your Mother will always be a part of your life just as her influence and memories will always be with you. In time, sadness will mix with smiles and laughter. Your rituals will be a positive path of life and love expressed. Gratitude will be your companion again.
Thank you, Jay. Today’s meditation was perfect. I’ve created my altar and it feels right.
I found peace and happiness in the woods behind our backyard when I was a little girl. When I wanted to hide, escape or be alone, I would run into the woods and sit near a small brook. I don’t know if that was a ritual but it was a practice. Now as a seasoned older girl I go into the woods and seek joy, solace, solitude. I still identify mossy soil, open tree trunks, fallen logs and white pine groves as homes for the unseen creatures that inhabit earth with us. I still imagine that faeries, trolls, magical lights and spirits dwell in these shadowy places. Is this habit? ritual? or wishful thinking?
I love this. I did something similar. It feels like ritual to me. 💙
This seems ritual to me. Since the beginning of time humans have found solace in relationship with life…experiencing what is ordinary as extraordinary. I am in the 3rd 3rd of my life and still find that the small rituals of stacking stones or collecting seashells or blowing out candles for birthday wishes are deeply nourishing.
This practice is a stretch for me. My recalled rituals don’t map advancement. They are not traditional highlights so it is a strange personal map and not for display. Not much mappiness in my rituals, I think…
Mostly my meaningful rituals i think would be around prayer. Grace before meals. Nightime prayer. Also holiday celebrations. Now my daily ritual is a.m. warm water w lemon, meditation and then w my grandaughter picking a diff color bubble to set a positive intention.
From the careful handwriting of an 11-year-old writing a poem to enter into a local contest, to the recovering alcoholic who turned to a gratitude journal at the suggestion of a friend over 25 years ago, putting pen to paper has been such a meaningful and regular part of my life. Sacred ritual indeed. It is undoubtedly one of the most healing and transformative practices to define my life. What a treasure!
While I never identified it exactly as a ritual, when I look backward my mornings have nearly always begun with coffee (or juice), a kitchen table, and a book or conversation. I have always been an early riser. I recall sitting with my father, my grandfather or grandmother (when visiting), at the start of a day (now by myself) with coffee – theirs or mine. It was often a quiet sitting, with just a few words, and as I grew my nose was – and is – in a book. It is usually a peaceful time, watching daylight (and weather) arrive slowly. At nearly 70, here I still sit, and have added a computer into the mix and a taking stock of yesterday, and planning today if it needs planning. At some point I added yoga to follow.
When I think about it, a good deal of my work/ministry life added some ritual, somewhat the same. Arrival, settling into my office, planning with reading prep, creating rituals for groups of people, (coffee!), with the added gift of conversation and reflection. I have learned, been healed and educated within these groups, made wonderful friends … all such a gift.
I so much appreciate a sense of place, a feeling of home.
Thank you for sharing the rich beauty of your life with us!