The Importance of Rituals by Elise M. Edwards


elise-edwardsMy sister once said about me, “One thing you have to understand about Elise—she takes the ritual of whole thing very seriously.” My sister was right and her words helped me see this quality about myself. What ritual was she talking about me taking so seriously? Happy hour on Fridays.

It was a different season of my life when she said this. I don’t have Friday happy hours regularly anymore, although I did gather with my friends nearly every week for food and drinks for many years throughout my 20s and 30s. It was often on Fridays, but at one point it was Wednesdays and then, for about a year, it was Thursday nights after a late shift at work.

More recently, I would meet a friend for crepes at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. Although the day and the time and specifics of these gatherings would vary, the act of setting aside a weekly time to connect with people dear to me and relax as we indulged in good food or drink was a ritual to me.

The rituals of my life, both religious and non-religious, are significant in many ways. They mark time for me: the end of a week, the beginning of a season, the start of something new. I was reflecting about rituals this past Sunday, which was Easter. Some of my friends now call it “Resurrection Sunday” but I knew it as Easter when I was a child, so I still identify it as Easter.

The religious significance of Easter is about celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Yet many Christians have other rituals and celebrations associated with the day. Flowers and eggs and bunnies and baskets full of treats symbolize life emerging from the dead of winter, re-creation, reproduction and abundance. New Easter clothes and shoes provoke the delight that comes from looking one’s best and serve a practical need, too—let’s get some clothes that fit the change of seasons and this body that has changed since last year! And on Easter Sunday, people gather for communal meals and activities that celebrate being together.

An Easter photo outside of the church with my dear friend.

An Easter photo outside of the church with my dear friend.

I delighted in these rituals this year. It was my first time celebrating Holy Week at my church in Waco. One of my friends who lives across the country was able to visit and join me.  I didn’t have a new dress or an Easter basket, but I did attend church services and they were quite meaningful.It was comforting and joyous to sing the hymns I’d been singing on Easter for years. My spirits lifted when the colors decorating our church were switched out for a new season and the physical space of the sanctuary transformed before my eyes. Cloths were draped and lilies were set, transforming the sanctuary into a bright and light space despite the dark clouds visible through the windows that surrounded us.

Those gathered in my church on Sunday read “The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom” together. It reads in part:

If anyone be devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival….

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive their reward.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them receive their just reward…

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, be not be dismayed by your lateness.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first ….

Let us all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

I was elated to hear this message brought to me through the ritual of reciting words more than 1500 years old: The joys of Easter were for me! Easter is the conclusion of the season of Lent, a time on the Christian calendar marked by fasting and self-reflection, and I just didn’t do Lent this year until the very end with the observance of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In the past few months, I had been mourning my own losses and following a different path of self-reflection and discipline.

I chose to avoid the demands of the Christian calendar for Lent. And on the precipice of Easter, my heart was saddened with news of the massacre in Kenya and even closer to home, with remembrance of my aunt who passed away last year on Easter. I grieved for my family and the families of those who were killed. I remembered how last year, I had wondered what Easter would look like, what it would be from now on without the aunt who is so central to many of my dearest memories of the holiday.

And yet, on Easter morning, pardon dawned from the grave. The celebration for me this year was about a renewal of faith and a resurgence of joy despite the mourning. It was a chance for me to find comfort in familiar rituals in a new setting. The importance of rituals is not that they always stay the same, but that they enable us to confront new challenges, new days, and new realities with elements that have sustained us in the past.

 

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.

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Categories: Academy, Belief, Christianity, Death and Dying, Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, God, Grief, Healing, holiday, Jesus, Lent, Loss, Ritual, Seasons, Spiritual Journey, Symbols

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7 replies

  1. Reblogged this on dmariesings and commented:
    I, too, am one who takes rituals seriously. Now in the midst of my first year with a new congregation, I am trying to find my way, looking to see their rituals while incorporating some of my own. This Easter left me at a loss.

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    • Thank you for reblogging! I can relate to your struggle and hope you find a way to develop and participate in meaningful rituals. Celebrating a holiday that is so important to me in a church that is still fairly new to me was not easy for me, especially since the holiday itself provoked reflection about my aunt’s death and grief associated with that. Although I am in my second year at this church, it was my first year celebrating Easter with this congregation. I’m in the choir and another group that had a lot of behind-the-scenes work to prepare for the Easter services, so I did have an idea of what was being planned for Easter Sunday. That helped, because I knew what the Milear elements would be, and some of the distinctive practices of this church, and how I could participate in those rituals. But even still, when Easter came, I did not do all I had planned. I did not attend the Easter sunrise service, and I scaled-back the dinner that I had been preparing. I had to trust my inner voice (or the Holy Spirit) for guidance. Sometimes our holidays or even our rituals will leave us at a loss, but I hope you persevere in your journey to find meaning and a good fit.

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  2. I’ve read this a few times now Elise. There came a time for me when familiar and meaningful ritual no longer made sense. I had changed in understanding of what the ritual symbolized and celebrated. And haven’t found new rituals that make sense for me now…or at least I’m not aware of any. Your post has re-ignited appreciation and desire to discover or create ritual that will feed my spirit.

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    • Thank you. I’m honored to hear that this has helped you on your own path. In my next post (in 4 weeks) I plan to discuss finding and creating new rituals.

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  3. I absolutely love this post it seems to me that Easter or Resurrection Sunday is something that is near and dear to your heart. Growing up in the church and being apart of the African American community Easter is one of the holidays that is often ridiculed or mocked for example we hear jokes like “Sunday church is going to be packed because you know Christmas and Easter is the only time folk go to church.” Or my favorite “I need an Easter outfit for Sunday.” With this post you make it clear that the Resurrection of Christ is way more than egg hunts and overindulgence of meals but the reemergence of Chirst our lord and savior which I appreciate.

    Thank you

    K. Brown

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  4. Very nice post! I liked how you mentioned that rituals “both religious and non-religious, are significant in many ways” because I too, do things that “mark time” for example, going out to dinner with my family on Sunday nights.
    I also liked how you mentioned that some rituals, like Easter, is mainly to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but can also be a celebration of new life through egg hunts that bring families together.

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