Rituals and Practices

THEY LAUGHED AT ME. I didn't like that at all-I didn't think they understood. I had told the other kids at the baseball diamond that I was better as a batter and pitcher because I practiced certain rituals. I always held the bat with trade mark up, out in front of me, and stared at the mark for a moment before I tapped two corners of the plate with the bat. To prove the efficacy of this little ritual, I held a trophy for batting .500 as a switch hitter in Little League.

My rituals for pitching were even more elaborate. To ensure my accuracy with the ball, I would grasp it firmly and walk in one direction around the mound-touching my cap twice as I walked. The other kids laughed and said I was just superstitious, but I knew this was my secret to success in the game.

You may be smiling yourself, but I think we live in a ritual-starved society. As an adult, some of my carefully observed customs keep me focused, grateful, connected, pulled into the moment, hopeful for the future. They add to my capacity to be a presence to my wife, my family and friends, and, especially, to strangers. Rituals give rhythm and familiarity to an otherwise chaotic day. They help me be a better player in life.

What are your rituals?

Here are a few of mine: I cover my heart during our National Anthem. It grounds me. Every morning, I always sing a song of gratitude-regardless of the weather-as I walk down my driveway to retrieve the morning newspaper. I have expanded that ritual and now hum a tune of thanks any time I stroll down our driveway.

I begin each day with some portion of the prayer of St. Francis-expressing my heart-felt yearning that I shall be made an instrument of peace, hope, love or comfort. If I hear an emergency siren, at any point during my day, I pause in silence to ask for compassion and healing for the responder and the one in need.

Sometimes, I add to this diet of rituals and practices that enrich my life. I just picked up a new one, when my wife and I visited Turkey to tour some of the world's most important sacred sites. I came home with a ritual so simple that many of our companions missed it.

For our last three nights in Turkey, we stayed in a glitzy boutique hotel with a modern gloss that stood in stark contrast to the sites we had traveled so far to see. But, as we departed, something happened in stark contrast to the hotel's décor. The hour was 3:30 a.m., when most of us were not inclined to pay attention to the young man lugging our suitcases onto a bus bound for the airport-and home.

After packing the bus, the young man took a minute to draw a pitcher of water from a tap in the hotel. As we prepared to depart in many directions, he poured out the water onto our roadway. It splashed on the pavement.

Why had he done this? I learned that it was a common ritual in that part of the world, bidding us auspicious travels wherever we were destined-because water always flows where it needs to go.

This article is the 2nd in a Lenten series posted on Day1 and ReadTheSpirit.com