Posts Tagged rituals

Rites Are Rarely Wrong – Chaplain Norris Burkes

In the Baptist church where I grew up, Deacon Bob taught that rites and rituals were of Catholic origin and therefore had no place in the Baptist faith.
As a chaplain, I can tell you that rites are rarely wrong.

Deacon Bob was wrong. Our Sunday services was full of rituals.

The worship service always began with a prayer, followed by three songs. The congregation usually stood during the first and the third songs, and a soloist or choir anthem transitioned the worship into the offering time.  Immediately after the offering plates were collected, our pastor delivered a three-point, 25-minute sermon that concluded with an altar call hymn.

Rituals and rites are intrinsic parts of life. As a healthcare chaplain, I have found this especially true in the death and dying process. I’ve helped deliver rites and rituals to people of all faiths. While these rites would mean very little to mainstream Christians, they still demonstrate the power of rituals and rites in the moment of death.

For instance, I’ve helped bedridden patients do such things as tape a crystal to their wrist, rotate their bed into a Feng Shui position, put a healing blanket on their bed or garlic underneath it. I’ve collected bones of the dead, feathers for the living, and even the placenta of a deceased baby.

Of course these rites don’t represent mainstream patients. The majority of the patients I visit are exemplified in someone I’ll call Mr. Stanley; a 76-year-old Korean veteran I met in the VA hospital three years ago.

Stanley’s heart was failing, and he was struggling to find breath as his tearful wife of 50 years kept trading glances between him and his heart monitor. At some point, she asked me to bless him. I thought back to my Baptist upbringing. We prayed for the sick but blessing someone was not a rite we practiced.

However, chaplains bring a nonjudgmental presence and deliver what people need in their moment of crisis, I wrote a blessing for him. I began by placing one hand on Stanley’s shoulder and holding the other open before me, as if I was expecting something to be placed in it.

“May God place you in his hand and hold you there.

May he pull you close to his heart.”

Cupping my outstretched hand over my own heart, I added:

“May you know the beating of God’s heart.
May your heart match the rhythm of his heart.
May his spirit fill your lungs with the healing breath of life.
May you know the calling of his direction.
May you hear his voice and find a peace that passes all understanding.
I pronounce this blessing on you in the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit.”

As I looked across at Mrs. Stanley, I saw a certainty forming on her face that wasn’t previously there. She knew and I both knew that God had brought some dignity of purpose to the moment.

My blessing wasn’t terribly creative, and it might not have been BC (Baptist correct), but its power in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley shouldn’t be disputed – even by Deacon Bob.

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Rituals with Meaning Are Grounded in Our Sacred Story Chautauqua Daily – Mary Lee Talbot

August 20, 2015

“Here is something for you to think about over lunch: What would Jesus do if you invited him to lunch?” said the Rev. Anna Carter Florence at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “He would not wash, he would not behave, and he would insult your mother and everyone else at the table.” Her sermon title was “Unmarked Graves,” and the Scripture was Luke 11:37-44. Jesus had been invited to dinner by a Pharisee, and when he showed up, he did not act as a guest was expected to: He did not wash his hands before eating, and he insulted his host. “Woe to you, for you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it,” Jesus said in the Scripture. The Pharisees were upset, and they represent everyday people, Florence said. “Jesus is calling us out on something we didn’t expect,” she said. She began her sermon describing her childhood neighborhood in Connecticut. There were fields and woods she and her brother explored, including an old graveyard. It was not attached to a church, but was tended by someone; there were flags on the graves on Memorial Day, and the grass was cut every year. Florence and her brother loved to look at the old stones and try to figure out something about the people whose graves they marked. “It was a friendly place — if you can say that about a graveyard,” she said. “Not spooky or haunted, but a secret garden with stories.” As the land was developed, the graveyard was no longer tended, the stones began to fall and the ground became a thicket and then a forest. “It is more haunted than sacred now,” she said. Florence also described the discovery of an AfricanAmerican burial site in lower Manhattan. “It is one of the saddest things to imagine people walking over the unmarked graves of the first slaves and free black people,” she said. “People were walking on the site without realizing what was there. How do we mark and honor sacred ground? What do unmarked graves require of us, and what do they mean?” Sometimes, graves are unmarked because people cannot afford a marker, she said. Sometimes, the grave markers are removed to make way for progress. This happens to Native American and small, country burial grounds all the time, she said. “Often, it is just the passage of time,” Florence said. “Years go by. The stones fall. No one remembers what was there. The ground becomes forest. Like Stonehenge, we don’t know exactly why they are there or what they are for. We can make up something, but if it is not grounded in our own sacred story, we will look silly.” The Pharisees had many rituals, and many of them made sense. Rituals help to keep things running smoothly. “They make sense when they reflect who we are, but they can outlive their usefulness when they are not grounded in our sacred story; then they become unmarked graves,” she said. Because the Pharisee thought washing hands before dinner was important, Jesus’ actions shocked his host. But Jesus, Florence said, was pointing to cleanliness of the heart, the state of the soul. “To have a clean heart we have to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” she said. “That is when rituals make sense and have depth.” If people can’t tell how they do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, things are out of balance and need to change. “We need to keep ourselves honest,” Florence said. “We need to rethink things. How did we forget who we are? Then it’s time for the Pharisee to go back to Chautauqua and time to invite Jesus to dinner again and be a guest who won’t behave.” The Rev. Bruce Archibald presided. Carol Hoglund, a retired teacher and active participant in Knitting4Peace, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Jesus Lead the Way” with words by Nicolaus von Zinzendorf and setting by Richard Proulx. The Dr. William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services. R

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