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The Magazine: Ritual is the trunk that connects the roots to the sky

The Magazine: Ritual is the trunk that connects the roots to the sky

by Beth Bojarski


With the possible exception of the Annunciation, the day the Church celebrates Mary’s bold, crazy willingness to carry a child, Lent is the season I most look forward to in the Church’s calendar year.

Lent surfaces our essential connection to the earth. As a culture, we tend to see ourselves as only a little lower than the angels, which can lead to pride and self-righteousness both individually and corporately. Lent reminds us that we really are only dust and to dust we will return. When I am reminded of such things, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to the earth and the Creator, of connection to the natural world and humanity, of openness to God’s grace and how I might live kindly, justly, and humbly, and of wonder about what is to come.

Lent is also a time of ritual. In I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey writes: “Rituals are the lenses through which we see our emotional connections to each other, to a culture, and to a higher power. They are symbolic expressions of our most sacred values.”

In Lent, by adding an intellectual, physical, or playful discipline, or by denying ourselves some treat or activity, we shake up our routine and have the opportunity to build rituals that connect.

“[Routine and ritual] seem to be different sides of the same coin – while routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical” (Maria Popova).

This Lenten season, I am working to establish necessary routine and magical ritual into my own life, routines and rituals that connect me with the earth and my dusty body and that remind me of wonder and grace. Routines and rituals like: paying attention as I walk about the roads and trails at Camp Stevens, limiting my time responding to email and closing the program when I’m working on other projects to avoid distraction, flossing daily, and re-introducing prayer both formally as is written in the prayer book and informally as is taught by Anne Lamott in Help, Thanks, Wow. I especially appreciate the reminder of the simplicity and liberation of expressing gratitude in her chapter on Thanks:

“’Thanks’ is the short form of the original prayer I used to say in gratitude for any unexpected grace in my life, “Thankyouthankyouthankyou.” As I grew spiritually, the prayer became the more formal “Thank you,” and now, from the wrinkly peaks of maturity, it is simply “Thanks.”

I want to pray Thankyouthankyouthankyou more often.

Lent is also about considering those routines and rituals that are already established that have meaning, either for the sake of containing and controlling – like unloading the dishwasher each morning – or because they are magic and make connections – like making coffee for my husband, or stopping at the donut shop with my oldest son each Sunday before church.

Regarding rituals with children, Susan Usha Dermond writes:

“What makes a ritual calming and reassuring is that it is an event meaningful to adults that children can join in. If it is something for them to do alone, it’s not a ritual or celebration – it’s a child’s activity. Your presence – talking about the day, telling a story of what you did as a child, or just listening – is the most important element” (from Calm & Compassionate Children: A Handbook).

For Camp Stevens, Lent has some wonderful implications. In addition to our constant call to live in harmony with and learn from the natural world, we would be wise to consider our habits. There is routine and ritual in our community life: meals, meetings, the way we greet our guests, and the way we treat each other. There is routine and ritual in our programs – and in summer camp especially.

Campers and guests come to Camp Stevens for a magical experience. When we are present as staff, interacting and joining in the conversation around the table, playing on the lawn after meals with outdoor education students, and dancing at Friday night’s summer camp Celebration, we make these rituals more meaningful, calming, and reassuring.

I wonder how we can be even more intentional in our routines and where there is opportunity for more magic. What are we doing because it’s the way we’ve always done it, and what are we doing because our mission is about transformation and because we value openness, gratitude, connection, and wonder?

I think it would behoove us all both individually and corporately – during Lent and throughout the year – to consider our habits: what we do to necessarily contain and control and what we do to imbue the mundane with an element of magic.

We are connected one to another. And I believe we are connected to God – to something, someone much bigger than ourselves and who loves us more than we can imagine. Lent serves as a time to consider our lives, our habits, our connections, and to live into kindness, justice, and humility to each other and to the earth. Lent serves as a time to express immeasurable gratitude to God. Lent serves as a time for us to stay rooted in our dustiness and to reach our branches toward that which is magical.

The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.” (Mary Oliver)


This reflection was first published on the Camp Stevens Blog

Beth Bojarski is the Executive Director of Camp Stevens, the Episcopal camp and retreat center in Southern California. She is author of To Serve and Guard the Earth, a six-week curriculum that considers the relationship between Christianity and creation care. (Church Publishing, Inc., 2010). Beth lives at Camp Stevens with her husband, Mitch, her two sons, Eliot and James, and the Camp Stevens staff.


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