May the prayer of my heart illuminate the movement of my body. May my every gesture bring me closer to Thee.
This is the prayer of ritual — the yearning of the heart to make every aspect of the self an extension of Divine love and human love. Of Divine hope and human hope. Of Divine trust and human trust.
A ritual is a gesture of the body that is made in service to something greater — to an ideal, a wish, a promise, to a hope for the future. If it is empty of these, then it can be an empty gesture. If it is full of these, it can become the expression of the soul. All depends upon the integrity of being with which it is carried out.
Breathing can be a ritual. Speaking can be a ritual. Waving an incense stick in the air can be a ritual. Reciting mantra can be a ritual. Circumnavigating a fire can be a ritual. Bowing can be a ritual. Holding hands in a circle with others can be a ritual. Sitting with clasped hands in mudra can be a ritual. All depends upon the relationship of the body’s gesture to the heart and to its sense of meaning.
Ritual is not ‘symbol.’ One does not perform an act symbolically as an act of mind. Symbolism requires the mind’s interpretation in order to understand what one is doing. While this is part of a ritual, it is not the core of it. The mind does not generate our involvement with ritual. Our deeper being engages in ritual. The core is the inexpressible sense of belonging to the Divine that permeates a gesture. The core is the joy that the gesture itself brings because it is perceived as real.
There are empty gestures in life that are based on social role expectations. There are empty gestures that can surround even our most intimate relationships. But the most meaningful gestures are the ones that arise from our deepest heart that we offer to another or that another offers to us. This can be the very simplest thing such as the surprise gift of a bouquet of flowers, or the touch of a hand to the cheek, or a kiss on the forehead. These gestures have not yet become ‘rituals,’ but partake of their meaning. They hold meaning because of the investment of the heart’s intimate intention within the one who makes the gesture. So it is with the ritual that one extends to the Divine. It is an extension of the heart’s intimate intention of love.
No one needs to tell us about the meaning of a ritual. We can know it from within if our mind is allowed to suspend judgment and to open to the innocence of the present moment that does not involve understanding. If our mind is a silent witness, with its content playing a lesser role in the ritual, then the heart and the deeper being can have more space in which to form a more intimate contact with what the body is doing and with the gesture that is being made.
In a certain way, we can think of all of embodied life as ‘ritual’ in the most sacred sense. We may, if we choose to, perform each action with a sense of Divine and human purpose. We may perform each action with a sense of intent and importance.
We do not often do this. We have countless ‘throw-away actions’ that we perform during the day. We make calls on our cell phones. We toss paper into a waste basket. We rinse our hands off in water if they have become soiled. We stand up. We sit down. We walk. We talk. We visit with others. All gestures that we make can be imbued with significance, and as such can become gestures that we offer to the Divine. We do not think them important enough most of the time, and are often not conscious enough to think this way at all. Nevertheless, all gestures made with the body can be celebrations of our relationship with the Divine.
This is the essential nature of ritual, and it exists as a glory and a gift that is given to embodied existence, that the body itself can become a transmitter and participant in the Divine embrace. We have not often thought this way, yet as all of life becomes infused with the knowledge of our deeper self or soul, all of life will be seen to have sacred intent, with no gesture, word, or thought separate from the rest.
We are glorious creations of the Divine, and our hands, mouths, and feet, no less than the words that we utter, are and can be instruments through which we express our sacred knowledge. In this age and time that we live in, all of human consciousness has the potential of reuniting with its Divine origin, the body no less than the heart; the heart no less than the soul. May all be blessed by the holy infusion of Divine intent within the vast realm of our embodied life.