‘Your daily life is your temple and religion. When you enter into it take with you your all.’ (Kahlil Gibran)
Take a look at the first picture. This is a picture of our advent ring in the second week of advent. Every year I save our Christmas wreath and then use it for our advent ring the following year. On twelfth night we burn our Christmas tree and throw the advent ring in, as well as pieces of paper with our prayers for the year to come. I like the rhythm of this annual ritual. This picture shows the ring in week two, with the second candle symbolising hope, something that felt particularly poignant as I took the ring down from where I had been drying it for 2020. Who could have imagined, a year before, what this last year would bring? But there was also something steadying about the annual family ritual which ties each year to its previous one and looks forward to the year to come.
Take a look at the second picture by Alastair Gordon. I recently attended an online talk he gave about his art practice in the form of a performative reflection in which he used a repetition of the phrase ‘light the candle, say the prayer, open the sketchbook’ as a counterpoint throughout. This daily liturgy and rhythm struck me as extremely profound in its simplicity. That sketchbook to me signifies a vocation. It is part of his daily rhythm, as much as saying the prayer and lighting the candle.
I also attended a talk not long since by two people who have set up a monastic community within their locality. They talked about a similar simple rhythmic model which they used to frame what they were doing: that of the candle, table and door. The candle for faith, the table for hospitality, and the door for welcome and for then enabling others to go out from their community refreshed. Again, I was struck by the ritual that held everything together, that provided a structure for their creativity and activity.
We often spend so much energy on worrying about what we do and who we are. In the bible it says “Cultivate or practice or give your whole attention and all your energies, to these things. Immerse yourself in them. This is the route to maturity….. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Then both you and those who know you will experience hope.”(1 Timothy 4)
Artists talk about their ‘art practice’, and this is just what it is: practice. We are still working on it, and often this process feels overwhelming. Rather like the time of advent, it could be seen as a waiting on the revelation of the divine. But isn’t this the case for all of us? Are we all not still practicing, as none of us are perfect? The discipline of ritual – whatever that is for us – helps us continue a commitment to ‘keep at it’, whatever that ‘it’ is for each of us – even when we do not feel that we are getting anywhere, are not sure what we are doing, or, as in 2020, when events overtake us in an unprecedented way.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What rituals help you keep your focus?
- What rhythms of life are especially helpful to you?
- Where is your hope?
You will need two candles and matches or lighter.
- Light the first candle and take some time to think about last year: what troubled you? What gave you joy?
- Light the second candle and think about the year to come: what are you concerned about? What do you hope for?
- If you like, read this prayer. This is the prayer that my family use every year on Twelfth Night when we burn the advent ring.
O God of life, of all life and of each life,
We bring our lives and the life of the world to you
You are before us, you are behind
You are around us, you are within
We bring the faith that is in us and the doubt
We bring the joy that is in us and the sorrow
We bring the hope that is in us and the despair
We bring the hurts that we carry and the hurts we have caused.
We bring the things we know
And the things we don’t understand
We bring the things we look forward to
And the things that make us nervous
We bring that which we would like to change
And the obstacles to this
We bring our past and our future
We bring our hopes and our dreams
Today, tomorrow and always.