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Sunrise. Sunday morning. Hamamatsu, Japan.

The metal-on-metal clamoring interrupts the morning stillness. The shop owner emerges from the glass doors. I hear the rhythmic scratches of broom bristles on concrete.

“Why isn’t there a maintenance person doing these tasks,” I wonder.

Soon I hear the splatter of water splashing onto the sidewalk: one bucket, then another, and another, and again, the sound of broom bristles whisking away the remnants of Saturday’s debris.

Every morning. Fujairah, UAE.

Cold water on sticky palms, cupped. The water then tossed onto the face, streaming down the neck, down the arms, dripping off elbows and the tips of his nose. Cold water snuffed into nostrils, splashed around ears, eyes, and finally sucked into the mouth, swished around, and spat onto the sandy ground.

Wednesday night, the 3rd Wednesday in November. Marion, Indiana.

Momma’s wedding China is washed and set upside down on the counter to dry. I am assigned to set the table while Momma prepares the serving dishes with paper notes to remember what food will go in which dish the next day. She places big tongs and spoons strategically in each dish. I arrange the dinner plates, bread and butter dishes, salad plates, soup bowls, 2 stemmed glasses, 2 forks, 2 spoons and 1 knife at each setting on the table.

11pm, Christmas Eve, Muncie, Indiana.

Daddy and I enter the dark and silent sanctuary of the church. We walk the long aisle to the alter; we take the acolyte candle lighters from beside the pulpit. Daddy strikes a match, the sound crisp in the empty space, and lights mine, then his. We follow our flames back down the long aisle and go into the sharp winter winds. Snowflakes float like my Grandmother’s snow globes after I’d shake them. Daddy and I methodically light the lines of luminaries on either side of the church entrance and down the sidewalk, all the way to the parking lot.

Recently, I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine. He always lights up when he talks about music and theater. “My ritual,” he said, “as I’m readying myself for the evening, is to lay out my clothes, bathe, dress, and choose my jewelry and cologne, all the while preparing my mind and my body to honor the actors and musicians with my intentional presence.”

The word “ritual” and his vivid description hit me hard in both my head and my heart. I felt myself gasp and there was a sudden halt in the lickety-split pace I’ve been running around in lately.

I’ve been priding myself for “showing up” here and there and everywhere. “I show up for people; that’s what I do.” I’ve said that more than once in these past few months. My friend’s story made me realize however, that my showing up is shallow, so minimal, compared to the intention in my belief system.

A habit is an acquired behavior that is followed regularly until it becomes almost involuntary.

A routine is a regular course of procedure. It is more intentional than a habit.

A ritual is also a regular way of doing things, but it implies a religious component. Let’s use the word sacred instead of religious and you can see that a ritual is the most intentional of the 3 similar words. A ritual is an action that is performed in the same way again and again, and with the purpose to invoke a reverence in the preparation for something. That reverence always includes others – a reverence for shoppers, guests, God, worshipers, performers.

Rituals are actions, often without words. Ritual acts of intention profoundly shift the energy of the person performing the ritual.

This conversation with my friend brought to light questions for me:

  • What energetic forces am presenting to myself, to God, to others with my mindless habits and routines?

  • What habits and routines can be dropped to make space for rituals that shift my busyness to a more sacred practice of authentic expression?

And for all of us:

  • What rituals do we practice that foster humility, demonstrate respect, and express honor?

Thank you, Philip, for your authentic beauty and ease of sharing.

You are a gift and an inspiration.

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Beautiful! Thank you River and thank you Phillip for this beautiful meditation. I will absolutely be taking this thought with me into the week to turn over in my mind and see how ritual can be implemented into my routine and habits in a synchronous way. <3

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