It was the Season of Insanity! Two years of my life that I was over-committed. I rushed everywhere. I was late to many things. I gave all of my attention 100% to whatever I was currently involved in and 0% to anything else. When one activity ended, I switched modes instantly and without reflection. It was glorious and exciting and… exhausting. I’ll get into it more some other time.
While there were many lessons I learned during this time in my life, the one that stands out most to me is this: building ritual into your daily life is important. Rituals force us to slow down and give us moments of stillness.
For most of my life, I shaved using a cartridge razor (the best a man can get) and water. Nothing else. The little strip at the top of the razor was sufficient for a (mostly) razor burn free shave. But I didn’t enjoy shaving. It wasn’t something I looked forward to. It was quick and dirty. I’d sometimes get it done in the bathroom at work. It was a task, not a ritual.
Then I decided to get a shave brush and bowl. Bought an inexpensive little thing of shave soap, too. I learned about the technique for getting a good lather with hot water. I found the experience of a hot lather shave to be enjoyable, and I started to get curious about some of the other “old ways“. I’ve since upgraded my shave brush, found better soap, and bought myself an old fashioned safety razor. Shaving is slower now than it ever was before. To get my lather just right, I like to get my water good and hot! I like to make sure that my brush is well rinsed when I’m done. I like to use some good aftershave lotion and a little bit of beard oil when I’m finished. All of this takes time, but I enjoy it. More importantly, it’s become a time when I can think in quiet.
Coffee is a similar story. I used to let people make my coffee for me. I had a drip coffee machine at home (a pretty nice one that we got as a wedding gift, too), but remembering to set it to go off in the morning rarely happened, and it didn’t taste like the fresh brewed cup I got at my favorite coffee shop.
Then I started reading about what goes in to a good cup of coffee. I spent a little money on a grinder and a french press. I picked up a bag of beans from my favorite coffee shop, and I started making my morning cup for myself. It wasn’t as easy as setting the timer on my coffee machine (though I remembered to do it pretty much every day), and it took a while to find exactly how long I liked to let the grounds and water do their thing. However, I found the whole process relaxing and mesmerizing. I felt like a chemist or a chef. Experimenting with the temperature of the water, the coarseness of the grind, the amount of beans, and the length of extraction was all a part of the fun. I’ve more or less settled on what I like and how I get my ideal cup, but the ritual and routine of the process is another moment of stillness for me.
I’ve come to appreciate these moments because they are familiar and comfortable. They aren’t always convenient. Sometimes I don’t shave because I woke up late, but I’ve never regretted taking the time when I don’t skip shaving. My coffee is never ready before my wife or I are out of bed, and sometimes I’d rather not have to wait for it, but by the time I’ve taken my first sip, I appreciate the time I put into making it.
Not to trivialize the study of the Bible by comparing it to brewing coffee or shaving, but I suppose as a Christian I should have realized the importance of ritual long ago. In the Old Testament, God encouraged his people to remember by having festivals and feasts that followed a set order and consisted of specific practices. Passover, for example, relied on the same elements each year: lamb, unleavened bread, cups of wine, bitter herbs, prayers, and recitation of the events of The Passover. When Christ took the passover for the last time, he instituted communion as a time of remembrance, a ritual that would remind us of his sacrifice.
Ritual can be abused, but more often, ritual can be a positive thing. A way of ingraining a task or thought into a part of your life. My family has an evening ritual that involves a time of worship, a devotional thought from the Bible, and prayer. It’s something we expect to do. It takes time. It’s not always convenient, but we grow from it. And we’ve never once said to ourselves after doing it, “I wish we hadn’t done family devo tonight.” For a few moments a day, we slow down and appreciate something that could otherwise be done in haste or as an afterthought.
What rituals do you practice in your daily life? Do you find slowing down to do things “the hard way” to be worth it?