On September 1, I will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Amazon Prime delivery truck because in it will be my copy of Louise Penney’s next book, “All the Devils are Here.” This is, I believe, the 16th book in Penney’s series of mysteries that focus on Armand Gamache, the Inspector General of the Quebec provincial police. Over the course of these books, Inspector Gamache has become an ever more interesting and nuanced character, always striving to do the right thing but recognizing that even the most ethical solution may involve harm to innocent people.
I will take the book out of the package and may even open it – but will not read a word. I have learned that as the stories have become more involved, I need to read them straight through, stopping only for meals and maybe a short walk. I will select one day of the Labor Day Weekend as “Armand Gamache Day.” My family knows that from the time I settle in with my tea, comfy clothes, and the book, I will not emerge until the last page is read – however long that may take.
The way in which I read a Louise Penney book has become a ritual. While little parts of the day may change, there is a prescribed order of how things are done. It is a ritual that with each passing year takes on more meaning.
In this time of radical change in how we are living our lives, we find that we are precluded from engaging in so many of the rituals, both sacred and secular, that are important in our lives. We can no longer engage in corporate worship. We so miss greeting each other with a handshake or a hug during the passing of the peace. We are unable to gather around the table and receive the bread and wine, signs of God’s everlasting love for us. We no longer welcome the newly baptized into our midst, promising them that we, as the congregation, will care for and nurture our new siblings in Christ. Why do we miss these rituals so much?
Several years ago, Pastor Bryan Penman of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, preached a sermon on rituals and routines. In that sermon he said:
While we may mourn the loss, at least for now, of some of the rituals we treasure, many of us are engaging in new rituals. As a part of the Northwest Intermountain Synod of the ELCA, and with guidance provided by Bishop Kuempel, we are able to commune in our homes – something that members of my former congregation in Washington, D.C. are prohibited from doing. In my home, only the rich, moist bread that my husband bakes and particular glasses for the wine are used for our celebration of the Eucharist. We have established a new ritual that over time has become more and more meaningful.
I suspect that many of us have already done so, but in this time when everything seems a bit slippery and it’s hard to know where there is firm grounding, establishing new rituals might be something to consider. During the first months of the pandemic, two thoughtful people suggested the same thing – every day, write down three things for which you are grateful. One of them added that to be held accountable, send them to a trusted friend. I have taken their recommendations seriously and every evening, I send a short email to a woman who was my spiritual director while I worked at Georgetown University. I then use the three things as the basis of my evening prayer which examines my past 24 hours and looks to the day ahead. This is a new ritual which I suspect will last long past the ending of the pandemic.
Perhaps this is a time when you might consider establishing a new ritual in your life. Maybe you’ve always wanted to explore some of the beautiful areas surrounding the Boise River to see if there is a quiet place where you can think or pray or simply be. If you are unable to get away, you could consider setting aside a small area in your home that you use only for daily meditation. This could be the time to commit to checking in with family and friends on a regular basis to check to see how they are faring. The possibilities for new rituals are endless – as long as we “remember what is at the heart of why we are doing what we are doing,” namely, to give thanks to God for our lives, the lives of all of our siblings in Christ, our world, and for God’s example of love through Christ our Lord.
Dear Lord, we thank you for the gift of life. Help us to always be mindful of your constant presence with each of us and all of your children. Enable us to find new and meaningful ways of keeping you ever present in our lives so that we can ever praise you for your constant gift of love. We ask this in the Holy Name of Christ, our Lord, Amen.