(The neuroscience of Faith and Sanctification Series)
Last blog I talked a bit about ritual, both its importance and its pitfalls. I want to reiterate that mindlessly engaging in ritual will most likely be worthless. To be honest, I’ve never been one for ritual, I’m a bit of an iconoclast. I just have trouble with engaging in things simply because tradition says so. So my difficulty falls on the side of ejecting ritual all together rather than mindlessly following it. But either way, there is much to learn about capturing the power of ritual.
There are two aspects of ritual that I’d like to emphasize in this post- slowing down and memorialized metaphor. In our culture today we must find ways to slow down. We need to incorporate mindful slowing down in our everyday lives. Ortberg, in his book the Life you’ve always wanted, describes slowing down as a spiritual discipline and an answer to what he terms the “hurry sickness.” The speed at which we live and the amount of stimuli we surround ourselves with takes a toll on our brain. It physiologically alters the way our brain functions making it difficult to slow down enough to be with ourselves, God and others. I would argue that as a result of our culture, it will be very difficult to sit before God and just be with him. The ability to do so most likely needs to be cultivated in many of us due to the lifestyles we lead. This is not a moral failing but an atrophying of parts of our brain.
I believe that ritual can be one way to slow down. As we take time to intentionally and mindfully engage in an unhurried exercise we are retraining ourselves to be in the moment and resist the pull of the “hurry sickness.” We can take a moment to stop thinking about productivity and speed.
The other part of ritual that it can create metaphors as reminders of things that are important for us to remember and meditate upon. Ritual can become symbolic ways of reminding us of the things that are important in life. As we slow down, engaging our body, mind and heart we are attempting to recenter our lives in meaningful way. I believe we can create our own rituals to do just that- as long as we don’t allow ourselves to go on autopilot as we do them.
I created a ritual of making coffee in the morning. I’m always rushing in the morning to get a bunch of things done before my son wakes up or before I have to go off to work. I find I’m rushed as I try and do things like make coffee. I’m in a hurry, it’s an inconvenience and it stresses me out as I think about other more important things I could be doing.
So started consciously slowing down and recognizing that I was taking this opportunity to be present. I added symbolism as well. I pour the coffee into a pan and add dark chocolate. The dark chocolate is a little bitter and I think of it as the bitterness I sometimes experience in life. Then I had some honey and begin to stir constantly so that it does not burn. The honey is the blessings of God that help melt away the bitterness. As I stir I focus on my gratefulness to God and pay attention to the sound the spoon makes and the smells of the coffee- a remain present and avoid distracting thoughts. All that matters is this moment. As I drink my coffee, I remind myself of the process and the gratefulness I experienced.
This is a way for me to start my day being intentionally present and grateful.