I like rituals. They comfort me, connect me to other times and other people, and remind me that today is unique and also not the last word.
The Holidays is a period of time full of ritual. Thanksgiving and gratitude, connection or challenge and remembering that sometimes one’s gain is another’s loss. Advent, with candles, waiting, O-Come,-O-Come-Emanuel, anticipation, quieting. Christian Christmas, God-with-us in surprising and unexpected ways, connection or challenge, Silent Night, Hope Reborn. Secular Christmas, frenzy, consumerism, spectacle, appearance of perfection (though reality is far different). Christian Post-Christmas: massacre of the innocents, the pain and anguish of human greed and excess. New Year’s: good-bye to the past, hello to what is yet to come, or is now here. Epiphany: humbling of the powerful for One who is Love. And other amazing rituals of the season, also familiar in our UCUCC family, including Kwanzaa, Solstice, Watch Night, and others.
There are other rituals at UCUCC. I’ve appreciated the tender, poignant, grateful rituals of saying good-bye and thank you to Peter Ilgenfritz. And I am anticipating the just-beginning rituals of start-up with Todd Smiedendorf, sharing hopes, undergirding of the Holy Spirit, embracing tasks and connections.
None of those rituals are unique to me, or to us. They comfort or disturb, they remind me of God’s promises and God’s presence. They connect me with people who were here long before me, and with people I’ll never meet when they come here long after me. Rituals can be reassurance and legacy. And there are times when I or others can’t participate in the ritual, because it’s too much or too heavy or because in current life it’s not possible. In those times others carry the ritual, allowing me or us to be carried, and to return to carry others at some other point in life.
A powerful, helpful, inspiring regular place with ritual for me is also regular Sunday worship. Ritual is often the container that can free the soul to be open to the encounter with the Sacred, the Holy. I am so grateful for faithful and engaging worship.
And I know rituals can also be confining, when burdened down with expectations that smother or don’t leave room for the Unexpected Holy. They can become vehicles of articulating insiders and outsiders: those who know and those who don’t. They can stifle or diminish or dismiss.
So in the ritual of New Year’s resolution, I want to resolve to be intentional with ritual.
To listen for God’s call, to be open to the Spirit of comfort and the Spirit of change. To be authentic and vulnerable in the moment, and in the connections. To value ritual as a means of focusing, not the motions as the end goal. And to be open to the possibility that it’s ritual which will allow or compel me out of a place of comfort into a place of risk.
May you know God’s presence in your life, in your rituals, in your expressions of comfort and places of challenge. And may your participation in this community be a means of expressing, providing, and opening such possibility for yourself and others, those here or longing for such a place, or hungry for meaning. I do believe God will be with us every step of the way.
Happy New Year!