Essay

A Call for New Rituals

By July 23, 2020 19 Comments

Our family had to quarantine this week. We thought we might have been exposed to COVID, because of the sickness of a close neighbor whose kids had interacted with our kids. 

And, well, that’s not all. (It’s been a tough week over here.) We’re watching the headlines about schools reopening like it’s a trainwreck we can’t stop looking at, not only because it impacts our children, but also because it impacts my husband who is an educator. 

I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I can tell you that we are not used to lacking control over our own safety and livelihood, and it shows. We’ve fought about it, we’ve screamed at the screen about it, we’ve cried about it (well, I have anyway). In the worst way, I want to talk sense into people so we can see a decline of this virus. Wear a mask. Stay home. For the love of God stop posting photos of hugging people on Instagram. I hate that I can’t control what other people do, in the most desperate way.

So during our short quarantine while we await the test results for our kids (who have no symptoms), I’ve been thinking about how hard this is going to be when the weather gets cold again. 

There’s a blog I have read regularly for years, and today’s post gave me some inspiration. It asked readers to submit their favorite family traditions and rituals. And there are hundreds of comments. It was so heartwarming to read everybody’s favorites—some funny (every summer having a spaghetti dinner that everyone has to eat using only their hands), some endearing (a rose from Dad every Valentines Day), some mundane but still meaningful (Friday movie night with the whole family).

We are people who make meaning through ritual and tradition. And having lost some of those rituals—especially the rituals of gathering, of bread and wine, of singing, of mourning together for those we’ve lost—can make us feel so unmoored. I, for one, need to come up with some new ones.

Today, I pulled some old candles out of a drawer. My kids light them (matches!) before our evening meal together, naming someone or something they want to remember in prayer. Friday’s coming, so I looked up a recipe for pizza dough. I set an alarm to remind me, a few times throughout the day, to take a deep breath and notice that I’m alive, that I’m here, that God is present.

Friends, what are some traditions, rituals, or habits that can anchor us in hope these days? What, during our stay-at-home life, can we do to structure our days with meaning, focus our eyes on Christ, help us practice of joy?

Let’s fill the comments with our best ideas.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

19 Comments

  • Thank you for asking! I look forward to reading the responses. As a spiritual director, I posted several suggested practices on my blog early in the pandemic. One of them would be great to teach to children. It is Joyce Rupp’s “Six Gestures of the Morning Prayer” that I posted with her permission. https://saintsinnerseeker.net/2020/04/01/spiritual-practices-six-gestures-of-the-morning-prayer/
    (Shameless plug, but it’s simplest to provide a link here.)

    A gratitude journal is also a good idea right now. Doing that has saved me from despair.

    A new ritual I have developed is walking and talking with our daughter through Bluetooth earbuds, and sending her and her husband handwritten notes, since they live far away, and we miss going to see them. I hope to keep these rituals going, pandemic or not. It is reminding us to attend to the things that matter (people)!

    • Jeff Carpenter says:

      Early on during the crisis, I made my own new ritual of sending my 3 adult kids (and their families) at least 5 daily photos from my smartphone, photos of the house, interior & exterior, familiar rooms & objects for grandkids to rediscover, nature and gardens unfolding into spring and summer, sites and sights along neighborhood and forest preserve walks, etc. I’ve slacked a bit in the last few weeks with lack of “new” subjects, but the practice keeps me looking, and no complaints from my audience.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      The six gestures are so good. I like that they’re physical.

  • Lynn Setsma says:

    Wednesday night grilled cheese. Open (during warm weather given Covid) for friends to join. BTW – just buy pizza dough from Hall Street Bakery. After several pizza crust fails, it’s what I do.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    During the deepest lockdown I made Monday mornings my baking time, trying all kinds of scratch recipes for cupcakes, brownies, coffee cakes. My husband and I would deliver them to our kids and grands, standing on the front stoop and talking for a bit. It gave them a treat and we got the treat of seeing them. I finally suspended it when summer started, but will gladly restart if lockdown returns.

  • Marcia Carter says:

    I’ve been going through closets, drawers, and the attic (hasn’t everyone?). I’ve found books from my children’s and my own childhood that I’m sending to my grandchildren. I get to feel close to these precious little ones who live far away and they get something to brighten their own isolation. Their parents also get to take a walk down memory lane.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      I love this! My mom has been listening to her grandkids read to her over FaceTime at night. It’d be fun to combine the two.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Wednesday night is omelette night. It is also church choir rehearsal night, taking summer months off. With both of us still working, that midweek interjection is a “night out” and a visit with friends, but also a pattern that has some time constraints for dinner. Omelettes are easy prep & cleanup, and even though choir couldn’t gather for Wednesday rehearsal, let along sing Sundays during the present crisis, we still have omelettes. Summers included.

  • Kathleen Lucas says:

    Every Tuesday evening we have “family dinner” with our daughter and family in their open-air carport – chairs 6+ feet apart. We are thankful for this opportunity to share our new recipes and have face to face conversation.

  • Travis West says:

    I’ve been reading through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass the last week or so, and just read the chapter titled “Allegiance to Gratitude.” In it she interposes excerpts from a morning ritual a neighboring Native American community has practiced for millennia with her own reflections about what starting the morning by gratefully gathering to name, “with one mind,” all the elements of the natural world and the gifts we receive from them. The address (which is not a prayer but an expression of gratitude) comes from the Haudenosaunee peoples (the six tribes native to the northeast). It’s an exquisite chapter, and a gratitude practice Mariah and I hope to incorporate in our Shabbat morning routines going forward. Uttering it to start the day roots one in a “culture of gratitude” that acknowledges our INTERdependence.

    Kimmerer goes on to say that expressing gratitude is a revolutionary idea: “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness.” Beginning the day with gratitude can transform us into revolutionaries who are committed to the good of each other and the earth, who acknowledge more unites us than divides us, and it can empower us to generosity, linking us to each other in an ongoing relationship of trust and care. That’s the kind of person I want to become.

    Here’s a link describing the Thanksgiving Address: https://donnallong.com/words-before-all-else/#:~:text=The%20Words%20That%20Come%20Before,connection%20to%20all%20of%20creation.

    And here’s a direct link to a translation of it from the National Museum of the American Indian website: http://www.americanindian.si.edu/environment/pdf/01_02_Thanksgiving_Address.pdf

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Here’s one that you can probably relate to, Kate, given your recent trip: Get outdoors! Go hiking, go fishing, go hunting, go birdwatching. Sit in a quiet natural place and soak in the beauty, wisdom, majesty, and glory of God displayed in creation. Ponder his wise provision. Consider his incarnation.

    Psalm 19: 1-4 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

    Covid-time need not be indoor time and digital time. The outdoors provide ample room for spacing. The U.S. in general is blessed to have so much public land wherein we can explore and connect with the physical, while having our mental, emotional, and spiritual batteries recharged. And, if you are so inclined, buy a duck stamp, even if you don’t hunt ducks. The North American model of conservation has been hugely successful, and it is built on the premise of being user (mainly hunter) funded. Millions of acres have been preserved across our country, all open to public use, but not just for hunting. Sitting in a marsh in the midst of bubbles of sulfur-based gases bubbling up while watching the petite marsh wren do what marsh wrens do will work wonders for the soul of anyone seeking a ritual.

  • Roze Meyer Bruins says:

    Pick a day of the week and make it a “No Whine/Complain” day.

  • Nana K says:

    During the pandemic I had to come up with a way to see my grandkids and still keep us all safe. On mother’s days I got a card from one of my grandsons saying the things he liked about me and one thing he said was “ I really liked it when we would sleep over at your house you would let us have popsicles for breakfast.” So I created “Popsicle Friday” I am blessed to have 4 of my grandkids living nearby so every Friday morning I get popsicles and scooter over to their homes and give them popsicles for breakfast. I can keep my distance and see their smiles and hear their giggles and we share a memory that will last long beyond this pandemic.

  • Rick DeVries says:

    Thank you for these words and your writings. I think it was for Christmas that our kids gave us an electronic picture frame and had loaded pictures on there. When the lockdown first started, I asked them to send more pictures since we might not see each other in person for a while. I’m working from home and early on when I would walk by a see a picture of one of the kids or grandkids, I would respond with “God, please bless _______ today”. Since it changes frequently, this has been a great way to keep them in my thoughts and prayers and has become one of my rituals.

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