By Donna Tourneur
Like so many, I am very grateful for summer when so many people take time to connect with family and friends, have a break at the cottage, or take a little vacation. This has been the case for me as well. Having little people around more often and taking them on adventures is one of the absolute joys of summer. It has become a kind of ritual, actually. So much of what gives meaning to life is tied up in ritual. Annual events, lifetime turning points, and weekly agendas all revolve, to some extent around ritual. Often these moments are dictated by the calendar, or the community or the faith tradition. Sometimes a ritual begins without one even being aware. The experience was meaningful enough to repeat and so a pattern begins.
For a time when I was a child, my father was the one to do the bedtime tuck in. Each night he would read a chapter or two from the Thornton W. Burgess nature series books. I became well acquainted with the adventures of Reddy Fox and Danny Meadow Mouse and still treasure the long ago memory of Dad doing the animal sounds the invited us into the world of imagination and conservation. The story was followed by bedtime prayers. Now I lay me down to sleep…. and “God bless” the list of those important to a nine-year old girl. It was a good ritual. As I look back, the time spent in relationship was at least as important as the time spent in imagination. A conversation with a colleague raised without his father’s physical presence caused me to reflect on this really lovely memory. His Burgess stories were read by his father but heard via cassette tape, played over and over without the snuggles or physical relationship. Suddenly, I understood how important this ritual was to me. It was more about learning to know each other than anything else.
The gospel has several accounts of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. The request, one might want to remember, is rooted in Jewish prayer ritual. Certainly, the disciples were well familiar with prayer. The request of Jesus perhaps has more to do with wanting to understand and emulate his spiritual life. as anything. There are many accounts of Jesus at prayer and so he begins. When you pray, begin by centering on the holy presence, and long for the sacred to enter daily life. Pray for enough for today, seek forgiveness while striving to forgive, and pray to be set on a journey of wholeness so the kingdom might be attainable. I realize this is a broad interpretation, but it is helpful to me to read beyond the words. This ritual prayer we have learned at the feet of our parents and teachers, is meaningful for many communities and individuals around the world, and has survived as a way to enter relationship for generations. It is best lived out as it is practiced.
I wonder if our relationship with the holy always has to do with relationship. Daily prayer is one way, following through with action is another, but understanding how we are in sacred connection with the world around us invites us to move beyond ritual. It is one of the treasures I appreciate more and more as I connect and relate with my earthly father as well as the source of love we call God. A faith for today thrives when the value the kingdom of God connects us in relationship.
Rev. Donna Tourneur ministers among the people of Trinity United Church in New Glasgow.