On Rhythms and Rituals


I’ve been a homebody for weeks now  – vacation time and now two feet of snow and the “polar vortex” – which we are calling the frigid air that has covered much of the United States – have given me the excuse to live a gentler and slower life.

This time of quieted activity has caused me to think about the rhythms and rituals of life.  I find that I have developed a way of living through a day that was impossible when I was rushing to get to work, rushing around at work, and rushing home so I could be there for two hours before I had to rush back to work.  I love my job.  But at 71, I’ve discovered I love this more: rising slowly, sitting longer, thinking harder, learning deeper. I’m enjoying patterns of activity and rest, doing and reflecting, being silent and communicating,  stepping into the life around me and stepping back out when I want to, planning and floating.

We talk a lot about hurry sickness, multi-tasking and omni-tasking, and the tyranny of the urgent. I think I have learned how to diagnose those illnesses. When we are unable to create or follow rhythms and rituals in our minutes and days, we are probably chronically ill and on the way to the death of the soul.

 We also need to pay attention to the rhythms of the seasons in our lives.  I can tell how much my spirit longs to listen to the rhythms of the seasons  when I  yearn to re-read books like the Gladys Hasty Carroll classic As the Earth Turns and Robert Morgan’s modern Gap Creek classics (Gap Creek and The Road to Gap Creek) which chronicle life in a world where winter, spring, summer and fall were the “bells” that had to be answered.

We have seasons in our spiritual lives as well. I first learned about that in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. In a fascinating appendix to that book, Calhoun describes the seasons of our lives and how to minister to our spiritual formation during each season.

Ignatius of Loyola taught me about times of consolation  and desolation – seasons of joy or drought in our relationship with God. I learned that life is made up of both kinds of experiences and that we can’t choose when we move in or out of them.  We can only learn to appreciate the rich times and to walk through the desert times, knowing that God is present at all times.

This morning Howard Thurman reminded me of another season,  fallow time.  Here is what he teaches:

“There is a fallow time for the spirit when the soil is barren…. Face it! Then resolutely dig out dead roots, clear the ground, … work out new designs by dreaming daring dreams and great and creative planning. The time is not wasted. The time of fallowness is a time of rest and restoration, of filling up and replenishing. It is the moment when the meaning of all things can be searched out, tracked down, and made to yield the secret of living. Thank God for the fallow time! ”  From Deep is the Hunger

There are times when our spirits need special tune-ups, but we also need to daily nurture the rhythms and rituals to keep our spirits alive.

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7 Responses to On Rhythms and Rituals

  1. Here’s a new thought about seasons of life:
    Season to Cherish the Heart
    By Michael Leunig

    We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
    Season to cherish the heart.
    To make warmth and quiet for the heart.
    To make soups and broths for the heart.
    To cook for the heart and read for the heart.
    To curl up softly and nestle with the heart.
    To sleep deeply and gently at one with the heart.
    To dream with the heart.
    To spend time with the heart.
    We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
    Season to cherish the heart.
    Amen. From: The Prayer Tree

  2. Stripping away is difficult but cleansing. Powerlessness is frightening but freeing. It might be good to revisit the chapter on worry in The Good and Beautiful Life.

  3. Kathleen Coveny says:

    Thank you, Karen. It was a blessing to read this. I have been living in too much anxiety again and I need to calm down and be at peace with God whatever the future holds. It is difficult for me, but I go forward. I am going through the Serenity Prayer book – it is good, but I fail to grasp it and remember it. There is so much I have to let go of.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. blessings, Kathleen

  4. Thanks, Dee. It gets sweeter as the days go by, right?

  5. Dee Hubbard says:

    …and this is why you are my mentor 🙂 Your post is rich with deep thoughts in simple sentences about the truth of life. I appreciate this post so much because at (almost) 66, I too, find myself appreciating the slower pace to dwell on and do the important things of God instead of stressing myself sick performing the world’s work. Thank you for this thoughtful and encouraging post Karen.

  6. I’ve been at this “rhythms” stuff a long time; perhaps I’m finally giving myself permission to relax into a rhythm even though intellectually I have understood the need for many years. I’m glad that
    you are moving into seasons and rhythms and allowing God to do God’s work during all of them. Thanks for sharing your growing with others.

  7. Ruth Evenhouse says:

    I really liked how you described “patterns of activity and rest …stepping into the life around you and stepping back out…planning and floating.” In your daily life you have developed that beautiful rhythm, and so soon (!) after deciding to cut back on your work obligations. It takes most of us a longer transition time. I find myself floundering through too much activity and then too little. Only recently have I begun to value both “seasons of joy and of drought” or, as Ignatius described them, consolation and desolation. Your reflections have helped me understand the necessity of fallow time, too; I find that the restoration part (that follows “fallowness”) comes easier within community or by accessing your honest, profoundly wise blog. Thank you for another reminder of God’s presence in all the “rhythms and rituals”.

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