Wednesday, May 07, 2014

4/40 in 40 Ritual is Important

(4th in a series of posts, the 40 things I've learned in my 40 years)

I have come to appreciate ritual. As a Catholic, ritual is just one of those things. I would go to other churches with friends on a Sunday, or weddings at Protestant churches, and I would spend a snotty amount of time analyzing their rituals and how they were lacking. How they didn't do it quite right. I would also, as I got older, do this at other Catholic churches. Lazy priests seem to abound, and lazy parishes, too. I have come to need ritual.

Ritual isn't only for church, although I think if I had been raised in a different denomination, it wouldn't be so danged heavy in my heart. Catholicism ruined me and there was no going back. Not only did I need ritual, but I got even more specific, becoming an oblate in a monastery chock full of ritual. Praying the hours. Blessing the readers on Sunday afternoons, and the kitchen workers too. The Rule of St. Benedict spoke to my heart, and a lot of that speaking had to do with ritualizing your whole life. Treat the utensils in your kitchen like the vessels of the altar. Treat your home like a church.

It started to go that way. I found myself creating routines, and after a while, rituals, out of ordinary tasks. Laundry, cooking, doing the dishes all took on a kind of grace beyond their station. And I started to love them more. I still hate ironing, but hanging clothes on the line is like a prayer. Vacuuming out under the fridge, polishing the beat up hall floor, sweeping the porch all became important moments.

In my classroom, putting down my students' chairs while listening to music in the morning is one of the ways I set my mind up for teaching, and set my classroom up as a place where my students can be comfortable: your chairs are already at your desks, just come in and unpack. This is more prayerful for me than the 7:30 faculty prayer meeting in the hallway. This is a moment of hospitality.

Friendships, too, have developed their rituals. My brain switches gears when my mah jongg friends and I sit around the table and the tiles start to move. And at some point in the evening the tiles stop moving and we talk. We come back to the tiles, but there's this pause when someone has a story to tell. With Ann, it's coffee and knitting. With my sisters, it's coffee or alcohol, whatever, but it's loud, whatever it is.

Living with Troy this summer, our ritual was a plate of tomatoes, sliced with salt and pepper. It became introduction, apology, and forgiveness; hospitality and acceptance. We would argue, and the clue that everything was ok was a plate of tomatoes on the table. He went away, but came back recently and the first thing we did was sit at my little 1950s era dinette set on the science classroom stools. I got a tomato, I got a knife. I brought them over with a plate and he looked at my hand.

"That's not the knife we use," he pointed. And he was right. 

I went and retrieved the correct knife. Because ritual is important.

I want to sit at your table of wisdom
so that none of these crumbs shall go to waste
for if we keep down this pathway to destruction
you know our children will suffer for our haste.


Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

"...hanging clothes on the line is like a prayer."

This is my absolute favorite of all the wonderful posts you've written. I love the Rule of St. Benedict, among other things, because it focuses on and enhances the poetry of everyday life. Above all, it teaches us to pay attention.

Mali said...

"... hanging clothes on the line is like a prayer."

It's like the Buddhist philosophy of "washing the dishes to wash the dishes" from Thich Nhat Hanh, which I love.

As Lali said, teaching us to pay attention. I like that.