The comics, with the sound of football in the background, was Sunday. Monday meant peanut butter toast, delivered to the bathroom door, as I got ready for school. October signaled prep time for our annual pumpkin carving party and the end of April meant the wallpaper sample books would come out to make May baskets for our neighbors. Road trips meant carrot sticks and bathroom stops at fancy hotels. The first Friday of the month we served at the Union Gospel Mission, my brother and I singing while I played my tambourine (yes, I’m serious).
I am mindful of these family rituals as Easter is upon us. I grew up in a home where the Christian celebration of Holy Week was replete with cherished church services, spiritual depth, and the most elaborate egg hunt I’ve ever been privy to. My brother and dad had to make maps so they could locate any unfound eggs so they wouldn’t rot.
What are the rituals by which your rhythm is set? What do you do when you first wake up? How do you ease yourself (or not) into sleep each night? How do you mark the changing seasons? In what way do you celebrate birthdays and life transitions and death? What do you do when it’s quiet?
The line between rituals and habits is a fine one. I like to think that rituals are chosen, created out of intention and planning. Habits, on the other hand, are fallen into. They are often counter to ones’ real choosing. There are healthy habits, of course, but these seem to me to be more ritual. More chosen. More work than habits ever are. It may be arbitrary, but it’s my way of thinking.
Every day provides new opportunities for habits or rituals. For automatic behavior or well made choices. Going to synagogue on Friday night, 7-11 after a workout, or having an egg hunt on Easter can be habit or ritual. So can checking out your reflection in every window you pass or getting out your cell phone (or, what I believe would be more aptly called your “pocket computer”) every time you’re bored or idle.
Last night my family was in the car together. As soon as I put the key in the ignition every one of my family members got their phones out and were interacting with them. They were sharing about what they were seeing on their screens but even still I felt stirred. We weren’t talking about ourselves or asking about the other. Our heads were down. I realized, “this is a habit.”
When my children were little cell phones were just coming on the scene. I noticed how my car time with my kids changed as I became increasingly reliant upon that time to return calls. I realized that we weren’t discussing the landscape as much any more and we were rarely singing together. As this dawned upon me I made a conscious choice to not be on my cell phone when in the car with my children. This was not an easy vow to keep. Sometimes, when I was exhausted of interacting with them or we were frustrated with each other for one reason or another, all I wanted to do was bury myself in a conversation with someone else. At other times I wanted to make my silent promise known in order to play the martyr card (“I’m keeping myself from doing something I really want to do so that I can be available to you...you’d better praise me and honor me for that!!!!” Oh how sad I am to admit how often that temptation hit.). Sometimes I just broke my commitment and called away. I was far from wholly virtuous or perfect. Overall, however, I feel glad that we shared many discussion-filled drives and plenty of “I’m so frustrated with you I could scream” seething and silent rides as well. We learned to tell each other when we didn’t want to talk and learned to look up and about. Our ritual was that car rides were for togetherness, spotting things, and sometimes for playing games.
Rituals are important to our souls for so many reasons. They tell us what to expect and let us know we can trust ourselves to do some things that help us mark time. They can pave the way for growth and development and depth of experiences. Habits that are evolved into, on the other hand, often act to keep us in one place and bar us from intentional action.
So many of our rituals, these days, are wound around technology. We locate charging stations to plug into every night before bed. We check Facebook. We buy apps and use them until the newest version comes out. We get home from being away and walk straight to our computer. We rely on our phone to keep us from being bored in line or allow us an escape path when a conversation gets long or when we just want to be alone in a crowd. Away from technology we chose our food and our friends and our activities out of habit more than intention and can go long periods of time without ever forcing ourselves to be uncomfortable. Whole lives maybe.
What if we attended to our rituals? What if we looked up and looked boredom square in the face? The same with silence, wait time, and opportunities to delay? What would happen if we assessed our habits and sought to replace one or two with intentional choices that might connect or inspire or stretch us? What if we squirm? What if there are awkward silences? What if we stop looking in the window, or mirror, or reflective surface and attended to others instead? What if we fight the urge to take our phone out just one time a day? What if the ritual became asking ourselves, “How can my actions lead to a greater respect for myself and other?” What if?