Higher Living Reflections

Picking Up Pine Needles

We create and infuse rituals into our lives intentionally and unintentionally, without meaning to. We often call them habits or practices, but in the end, if the activity is a regular one that serves a higher purpose, it is a ritual.

The deeper question is about why we have and practice rituals. Joe Holub, a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor, says that too often we see and live life like how we view an iceberg—the 10 percent visible above the waterline. “Rituals that involve reflection, meditation, prayer, musing, contemplation, reading, writing, and whatever else,” he told me, “are ways to go deeper than the superficial and to experience existence below the waterline.”

What Joe explains hearkens back to the earliest humans who, like most people today, believed people had spirits and at death went somewhere. Accordingly, they ritualistically buried their dead with artifacts and more

Steven Craig, author of Waiting for Today, suggests rituals are a way to give us a sense of grounding. “Rituals,” he said, “connect us communally with the world around us in a way that reminds us that we are not alone in this great, big chaotic universe. Moreover, they give us a sense of stability, a reassuring calm to come back to when the winds of unrest surround us.”  

I prefer affirming my place and role in the world and universe by easing into my day calmly. Others like or need to launch themselves with a cup of joe, hitting the grounding running, either literally or figuratively. Then there are those who practice several rituals like Joe who has a passion for photography. “I go outside every day with camera in hand,” he told me, “and observe the wonder, beauty, and miracle of nature around me in the detail.”

He paused a moment in reflection, then said, “I wonder if it is the Taoist, Buddhist, or Native American in me that recognizes the value of seeing the interrelatedness of all things and the quest to live in balance and harmony both internally and externally.”

My niece, Patty, views personal ritual similarly. She wrote about how she enjoys sitting in an old iron chair in their barn with her dogs when she has down time. “It’s my quiet time,” she said, “when I think about the days coming or days gone by and offer prayers and energies to those I love and those in need.”

Rituals are not just of the religious or higher, spiritual plane, they are often personal and social practices. Coworkers gather at watering holes for happy hour and sports teams huddle up, pump fists, and shout, “Go Bird Legs!” In the doing, members submerge their selfhood to become a part of the whole—or should. There’s no I in team. That is true in military units, religious congregations, and fraternal orders.

In addition to rituals helping us ground ourselves and helping us to connect, commune, launch, slow down, detach, and interrupt life activities that come to control us, Joe suggests they serve another purpose. “The significance of my daily rituals,” he said, “is that they hold me accountable for who I am, for being me. It is a way to spend time with myself and draw nourishment from the rich soil that the roots of my being permeate and bring a sense of meaning, purpose, and equilibrium.”

Joe likens it to a healthy plant needing a good growing medium, which includes water and nourishment. “So do I,” he said, “and ritual plays a role in that process.”

Being a nature boy, I see each aspect of gardening as a small ritual within the scope of the large one. It is my going to church. I only half-jokingly say that if it weren’t for guests, I would dust my front-room tables twice a year, and then so grudgingly. Yet I spend hours raking and picking up pine needles. I call it doing my Zen. So what gives?

I see dusting as an artificial, superficial chore. Yes, a dusted table is more pleasing to the eye than one coated with film, and I am happy I can still physically dust them. But as my mother came to say in her later years, “That dirt will be there tomorrow.”

I’m with Mum: Dusting is a chore. Sweeping Nature’s floor is a meditation. It’s funny how those pines keep me grounded.

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  • Laurel McHargue
    September 3, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    YESyesYES! When I lived in our 130-year-old Victorian in Leadville, I’d tell people the dust was “antique,” and who was I to be rid of it! Gardening . . . raking . . . feeling the earth with our hands and later digging it our from fingernails . . . THAT is pleasurable. I don’t think we need to answer “why.”