Some of you know that on a Sunday this past July, I answered questions that members of the congregation wrote down on index cards. Time didn’t allow me to answer all of the questions so I will address a few of the questions in my monthly columns. For August, we have this question:
When does a ritual become a spiritual practice?
Let’s start with a definition of ritual: A religious or formal ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. Synonyms include ceremony, rite, ceremonial observance, service, sacrament, act, custom, practice, procedure, protocol. Our worship service is filled with ritual: The Call to Worship, the lighting of the chalice, the offering, the singing the children to class, the communal singing of Spirit of Life. While rituals can be accomplished alone, I think of rituals as something we do together, in community. Every religious institution has them and we can think of our participation in ritual as part of our spiritual practice. Anything we do on a regular and consistent basis that feeds us emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, can be spiritual practice.
For instance, the UUSR offers weekly meditation on Thursdays at 11. I view this as spiritual practice as it is not a ceremony, nor is it formal. But we do have a procedure: We start with some casual checking in, hear a reading, and then sit together in silence for 25 minutes. Based on the synonyms, our weekly meditation could be a ritual. We are in community and we are following a prescribed order, more or less. But for me, meditation is missing the ceremonial aspect of ritual.
Our spiritual practice can include coming to worship and participating in the rituals of the service. But spiritual practice can also include solitary pursuits like reading poetry, walking on the beach, drawing or painting, throwing pots, or singing. Spiritual practice is more expansive than ritual—it is ritual and…
Spiritual practice implies action on a regular basis. Rituals can take place once or twice a year, like our New Member Sundays. No matter how many New Member Sundays we have attended, we can’t really call our presence at New Member Sunday a spiritual practice, because it isn’t done regularly.
In essence, ritual becomes spiritual practice when we make it so. I may have more to say on the subject, but for now, I send you love and peace from the coast of Maine!
See you later this month! Rev Susan