Beliefnet
God's Politics

Our world seems to grow busier every day with conflicting commitments that pull us in many directions. Some of us feel the weight of changing the world lies on our shoulders. We know we are too busy but don’t know how to disconnect from our fast paced cyber-spaced world. Anxiety, depression and suicide are increasing. Growing evidence suggests stress and pressure of overbooked schedules are major contributors. God’s healthy rhythms are blurred by a culture that says there is never time to slow down or take a break.

Finding the balance between being and doing isn’t easy. Our daily activities and the rituals that give meaning to our lives are often divorced from our religious experiences. Massage therapy, aromatherapy, yoga, and countless other disciplines tantalize us with the promise of peace and relief from stress in more tangible ways than do prayer and Bible study. The consumer culture and our concerns about the upcoming elections have more impact on our life pace than do our faith values.

Finding God’s pace and the rituals God intends to mold our lives requires intentionality. We must disconnect from the rhythms of our secular culture and deliberately develop rituals and routines that flow out of our faith. Unfortunately since the reformation Protestants have tended to look at church rituals and liturgies with a disapproving eye. Many evangelical Christians are scared by the word ritual because it implies something formal, legalistic and boringly repetitive. Even Catholics have allowed their lives to be overrun by the busyness of the secular culture and its pervasive rituals.

What we don’t realize is that our whole life is a series of rituals. A ritual is simply anything we do on a regular basis that reinforces our beliefs and values. Taking a shower in the morning and washing our hands before we eat are both rituals that flow out of the belief that we need to be physically clean to start the day. Daily prayer is a ritual that reinforces our belief in a creator God who relates to us in a personal way and who is active in both our lives and our world.

When we disconnect the rhythm of our lives from our religious experience, quasi religious rituals rush in to fill the void. We no longer fast for Lent but go on obsessive spring diets instead. We rarely pause during the day for prayer but punctuate our routine with coffee breaks, aerobic workouts, and trips to the mall. We think we have escaped from the dead rituals of the past but are caught up instead in the compulsions of fashion fads, shopping sprees, and the allure of a new vitamin pill that promises a happier healthier life.

There is growing recognition of our need for daily, weekly, and yearly spiritual practices or rituals that flow from our Christian values and provide a rhythm that helps us cope with the escalating stresses of life. As psychologist and life coach Martha Beck said, “ritual is an incredibly powerful psychological process…Modern Western culture has had most of the ritual stripped from it, leaving us less grounded and more alienated than many so-called primitive peoples. By putting ritual back into your life, you can help ease stress and enhance enjoyment, benefiting everything from your immune system, to your parenting skills, to your creativity” [“Creating Special moments that enhance and enrich your life,” Real Simple, April 2000]. Have you ever noticed how irrational and angry a child gets when his or her usual routines are changed even slightly? The need for structure and ritual is deeply imbedded in our psyches.

Spiritual rituals are powerful and essential forces that are meant to be the foremost way we create and express meaning. They should provide the anchors and rhythms that give purpose to our daily routines. They bring us into joyous relationship with God, speed our personal healing processes, shape our communities, and make our world a welcoming place in which to live.

Martha Beck encourages us to make rituals that are uncomplicated, yet meaningful, so they won’t overwhelm us or add to our burdens. She also suggests that we keep them simple. This means we are more likely to stick to them and can creatively alter them as our circumstances and life situations change.

Christine Sine is an Australian physician who has worked extensively in Africa, Central America, and Asia. She and her husband Tom are co-founders of Mustard Seed Associates – an international network that encourages Christians to live out their faith authentically. This article is adapted from her latest book, GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life(Barclay Press 2006). For more information visit the MSA website, http://www.msainfo.org/.


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