rituals: a kind of grace (rachel marie stone).

As per the day would suggest, Tuesday has again arrived and so has its guest post counterpart. Today’s writer, Rachel Marie Stone, weaves words together in such a way that before you know it you’ve let loose a big sigh and you’ve breathed a deep breath of grace and joy. And this morning’s post will no less do the same for you. Enjoy – enjoy, enjoy! – Miss Rachel’s words today.  

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I used to think that a life governed by ritual would be a difficult life.

When, as a pre-teen, I read Gone With the Wind, I thought it must have been burdensome for Scarlett O’Hara to follow the rules of dress and food and manners: which kind of clothes to wear at what times, when and whether to eat or not eat, how and to whom to speak.

“Don’t you think it would have been hard to live then, with all those rules?” I asked my grown-up cousin.

“Maybe,” my cousin said, “but maybe there’s another way to look at it — there wouldn’t be a lot of questions. You would know what’s expected of you. No surprises, you know.”

At times in my life I have taken rituals as a rebuke to my own tendency to improvise; to chart my own course. Now in my third decade, I sense how ritual alleviates a burden, and therefore functions as a kind of grace.

As a worshiping Episcopalian, my religious life is largely shaped by ritual. Like C.S. Lewis — Anglican that he was — I experience liturgy as freedom; the language holds my faith for me when my anxious heart and distracted mind can’t.

Most days, I wake first. I go downstairs, I turn off the outside lights as the sun is rising. I grind the coffee, heat the water, press it down. I pour cream, pour coffee, sit on the couch, and drink. I read or do not read my book; stare or do not stare at the birds in the tree outside my window.

When the cup is two-thirds empty, I go into the kitchen, arrange the boys’ lunch containers on the counter, and begin preparing their lunches and snacks.

There are rules: each boy must have a clean cloth for both lunch and snack; four cloths. Nuts are permitted at lunchtime, but not at snacktime. Graeme will eat Nutella, but never jam; ‘everything’ bagels, but never plain.

Aidan eats peanut butter or cream cheese, never Nutella. There will always be fresh fruit or vegetables, or both, cut neatly for Graeme; kept whole for Aidan.

I arrange each element with care. When I make the sandwiches, I realign the cut halves of the crisp rolls. I fold the clean cloths and tuck them inside their bags. I zip them closed.

Then, as I finish my coffee, I lay out two small plates, and begin to prepare their breakfasts.

I used to think that a life governed by ritual would be a difficult life. These days I taste and smell and sense in ritual a comforting alleviation; a lifting of a burden. A kind of grace.

screenshot-2014-05-07-20-22-27Rachel Marie Stone is a regular columnist for The Englewood Review of Books and has contributed to Christianity Today, InTouch, OnFaith, Books and Culture, The Christian Century, and Sojourners, among other publications. Her first book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, won the CT Book Award for Christian Living. She is also the author of The Unexpected Way, a book about the Gospels for children. Rachel lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. You can find her blogging on food, family, faith, and justice at Patheos and follow her on Twitter at @Rachel_M_Stone.  Cara again: Don’t Rachel’s words bring about a sigh of relief, a letting go of the internal pressure valve?  Leave her a comment with your encouragement today.

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