This article is an opinion.
I recently led four daily contemplative practices for our new student orientation. Mind you, each one was virtual since we continue to live with the reality of Covid-19 in our lives. That did not stop people from coming and, in fact, may have aided in what I felt to be a fruitful program.
Gathering with the students who opted in on each of the days became a ritual for me. You see, rituals do not just belong in religious spaces. Rituals take place every day. Many of us are already moving through rituals in our day-to-day lives, and it would be would be wise to acknowledge them and their potential for our own human flourishing.
Co-founder of the award-winning podcast, “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” Casper Ter Kuile, reminds us that many things can become a spiritual practice or ritual practice. In his book, “The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices,” he offers the following guidance for how rituals make the invisible connections that make life meaningful, visible. He says we need to be clear about what we are inviting into this moment (our intention). We need to come back to the present moment (give it our attention). Finally, we should then come back to the practice again and again (making space for repetition).
With that in mind, we can think about those things we do repeatedly in our lives. For some of us, they will be religious in nature — attending to our regular prayer or worshipping practice in a particular place we think of as sacred. For many of us, though, they are everyday practices like exercise, washing dishes, snuggling our child, reading stories, readying the coffee pot, preparing someone’s lunch. How might we take Casper Ter Kuile’s guidance named above and apply it to these everyday practices? Better yet, how does it already show up in the ways in which these ritual practices enliven our very being?
The longer I work in college chaplaincy and the more years I accumulate in my life, I realize that there is very little, if any, difference in the sacred and profane. I learned early in my life that only religious places and practices were truly sacred. I have been unlearning this now for quite some time, almost as long as I spent learning it. Some of the students I work with have been some of my best teachers. They have opened my eyes to the fact that just because they are “nones” (students who tick the “none” box on an admission application), does not mean they have abandoned participating in the sacredness of life. In fact, they are often deeply spiritual and attentive to the things that seem to matter most in life.
The four days of contemplative practices during orientation allowed those of us who gathered to participate in something meaningful together. We listened to music, sat in stillness, let the words of a loving kindness meditation wash over us, and participated in a gratitude video. On two of the days, I asked the students to list one word in the Zoom chat that described how they felt as they engaged in the practice. Most of them participated and shared words like calm, peaceful, balanced, relaxed, etc. A few courageous souls said things like scattered, uncomfortable, and lost.
Taking the time to think about ritual practices and how they call us to live with intention, attention, and repetition is not necessarily easy. It starts with us stepping out of our busyness for a few moments at the beginning or ending of our day to think about what we already do that holds the potential for our flourishing. What are we already doing that holds the potential for not only our own flourishing but also the ways in which we may flourish together?
Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia.