We had the joy of staying with our grandkids recently for an overnight and probably the most important instructions we received before the parents left had to do with bedtime rituals. Every family with young children has them, and as with all rituals, their power comes from their familiarity, order, and repetition.
Rituals are essential for ordering our families, friendships, work, play, and personal lives. They help form our identities, both individually and communally. Rituals are how we pass on wisdom and beliefs across generations. All societies have their rituals, and of course, so do all religions.
During the next two weeks, both Jews and Christians will celebrate some of the most sacred rituals of their respective faith traditions. Holy Week begins this coming Sunday for Christians and culminates with the celebration of Easter the following Sunday. Passover starts next Friday and continues for the following eight days. Each sacred ritual will draw on ancient traditions. Stories will be told. Songs will be sung. Prayers will be offered. Faith will be renewed. Community bonds will be strengthened.
All families have rituals that make them unique. Family rituals are common around the sharing of meals, bedtime routines, celebrating holidays, enjoying vacations, recreating, and participating in spiritual/religious celebrations. Family rituals embody values and core beliefs that are important to each family and help ground and form the identities of the members of the family. What family rituals have been important in your life? Are there family rituals that have been passed on through the generations? What do they say about your values and those of your family?
For many years, when our children were young, I would make pancakes every Saturday morning. Blueberry pancakes were a favorite, as were pancakes shaped in the form of each child’s initials. The family time around the breakfast table was every bit as important as the meal we shared as it provided a chance to hear about each others’ week and to talk about plans for the upcoming weekend.This simple ritual, among many others, helped ground and bond our family together.
The important ingredient in participating in rituals, whether family or religious, is how we choose to participate. How we show up makes all the difference. Choosing to be mindful and fully present means that we will both receive the most from and give the most to the experience. If, however, we are distracted, merely going through the motions of a ritual, we will likely receive little and give little to the experience and to those who are participating with us.
As many of us prepare to celebrate the sacred rituals of our particular faiths, may it be a time for us to also remember the importance of the sacred rituals of our daily lives spent with family and friends. And whether we find ourselves making blueberry pancakes for our family, telling a favorite bedtime story, or attending religious services may we do so joyfully and mindfully, choosing to bring our full selves to these most important and defining experiences.