In the last pages of Henri Nouwen’s, Life of the Beloved, he asks us to consider, “But where and how can we rediscover the sacred and give it the central place in our lives?” As I read his words, I hear him affirming that everything and everyone and every moment is sacred, but how do we become aware? How do we open our eyes? How do we tune our ears?” My teacher, Jesus, talked about seeing and hearing in Matthew 13 when he quotes the prophet Isaiah
You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them. (then Jesus says to his disciples in v. 16) But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Last week, I wrote about how I practice awareness of the present moment. Look back at my post for Friday, May 24th to read. This week, I thought it would be beneficial to bring awareness to the sacredness of moments in our life that are defining moments.
Cultivating awareness of the sacred in every moment is a challenge. What if we start with something easier like a ritual for major life events? For me, my heart is sad that we have lost connection to ritual to help mark life lessons, or passage of time, or the end of something that we loved. Many years ago, I spoke with a friend who is a minister and she shared with me her need for a ritual. She suffered many miscarriages and her attempts to conceive did not bear fruit. She longed for a way to mark the end of this season, to signal “It is finished” before she and her husband began the journey towards adoption. Just recently, another friend confided that she needed a ritual for she and her husband. They had experienced a season of distance, hurt answered with more hurt, and had betrayed their marriage vows. She longed for a ritual to announce the end of this season and the commitment to move forward into the next. In each conversation, I felt that our Christian tradition should have numerous rituals to help people find the sacred in these moments. And we do, but we have to dig for them in our sacred text and Christian tradition because they have been found meaningless over time.
During my ordination process, I read Joshua 4 that described the Israelites crossing over into the promised land. I read these words
Those 12 stones which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’”
For me, I felt like I was crossing over from one life into my new life as minister and so in my ordination ceremony, I stacked stones. I asked each person who came to my ordination to contribute to my stack acknowledging that I did not get here on my own, but that each person present made an impact on my journey. Stacking stones became my ritual to mark significant events. When I resigned my last ministry position at a church, I stacked stones on my final Sunday. The final stone on that stack was a seashell because like the Disney character, Moana, I felt called out beyond where the church felt comfortable. At the end of my Doctorate of Ministry project this past month, I found myself on top of a mountain in New Mexico…stacking stones.
The idea of ritual came to my attention again when Christian author Rachel Held Evans (RHE) died suddenly at age 37. I read that Nadia Bolz-Weber came to her bedside and performed the liturgy of last rites saying, “Lord, let your servant go in peace,” including anointing her head with oil. Bolz-Weber is quoted as saying, “In times that we are collapsing, these are words that have been worn smooth by generations of the faithful.”
I would agree. In times where we don’t have words or words seem meaningless, a time-honored ritual, well-worn path connects us to those who have gone before us and those who will go after us. And yet, I felt something lacking in this ritual. I did not know why I felt a lacking or what I would want to offer a friend or a loved one in their last moments until I was on my mat. Yes, back to yoga😊.
While on my mat, my teacher mentioned that during the week of flooding in our town, a baby was born. She was talking about baby Archie born to Meghan and Harry. My teacher created a practice that had us posturing our arms like we were holding a baby, rocking, and cradling. Then, she asked us to consider when we had held ourselves in as tender of an embrace as we would a newborn. A light went off inside my head and I knew how I would offer a liturgy of last rites.
When a baby is born, we welcome them into this world by bathing them, swaddling them, and placing them next to their loved one’s heart. Swaddling them helps them feel safe and secure in this new world. My son who has autism had a weighted blanket at one time to help ease his anxiety. He even had a weighted and snug vest to wear in times of dis-ease. We also used a small device that helped him feel a heartbeat while in his crib his during his first week’s at home.
What if our end of life rituals involved a thoughtful embodied ritual to ease the passage from the womb of Mother Earth to the next life just like we ease the transition for a baby from their mother’s womb into our world. What if we swaddled? What if we held them close to our heart so that they could feel the beat of a loved one or minister? What would that feel like to sense the person’s last breath—to feel it bodily? When I began to explore an embodied liturgy of last rites, I told my husband that this was how I want to pass from this world: swaddled and held feeling his or another loved one’s heartbeat until my last breath. He is a fan of time honored rituals, so I also told him, “You can put oil on my head, too, if that makes you feel better😊”