rit·u·al – adjective \ˈri-chə-wəl, -chəl; ˈrich-wəl\
: done as part of a ceremony or ritual
: always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time
Before I hit a tennis serve, I call out the score, bounce the ball three times (twice if it’s a second serve), and pause to take a calming breath. Then I allow my jaw to drop a bit as my arms pull downward to begin the deliberate, symmetric pendulum motion which is the ball toss. The slack jaw prevents tension while still maintaining strength and control.
Even during rallies, I practice tennis rituals. When I was a girl taking private lessons at Racquet Swingers Tennis, my coach, Bob, taught me the split step. He said it would help me get to the ball more quickly. A split step is like the third and fourth steps in hopscotch. Coach told me to time my split step to land right when my opponent’s racquet comes in contact with the ball. “As soon as the ball is just a foot off their racquet,” he explained, holding up a ball near his racquet for a visual, “you already know where the ball is headed.” The split step is a way of keeping on your toes, literally.
Our family life, too, is full of rituals (or traditions, which are rituals solidified over time).
Every time we had a baby, as soon as the nurses left and we were alone in the hospital room, we prayed for the newborn child.
Every sixth birthday, each son got an adult-sized, backpacking-weight, 20-degree sleeping bag.
The standard seventh birthday gift was a fishing rod.
An unbroken ritual ever since day one of parenthood: read a book aloud, every night. Early on, we read Sandra Boynton board books. Nowadays, it’s Shelby Foote’s Civil War (just the first volume) or To Kill a Mockingbird or, currently, Unbroken.
Every night before bed, I double-check the stove, oven, and toaster oven to make sure everything’s turned off.
The summer before each son entered first grade, we bought him his own Bible.
Whenever we complete a half-semester of school, we celebrate by going out to breakfast, taking turns choosing the restaurant. First-quarter breakfast will be after the 43rd school day. It’s my turn to pick, so we’ll probably go to Thai Basil (not a breakfast restaurant, but anyway).
Every year for my birthday, we go to a Pikes Peak Philharmonic performance. (We’ve only done this once. I’m calling it a new ritual.)
Every December we make gingerbread creations, one per son. In previous years we’ve made a gingerbread TIE fighter (think Star Wars), a gingerbread Star Destroyer (again, Star Wars), a gingerbread Air Force Academy Chapel, a gingerbread aircraft carrier, and even a gingerbread house. I jokingly challenged them to make a gingerbread Sydney Opera House. I’m afraid they might have taken me seriously.
Every Christmas, I make lumpia (with extra garlic).
About three times a year, we drive five hours west to visit my in-laws. When we turn from the main highway onto Government Springs Road, we always sing The Thanksgiving Song (“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go . . .”). We sing it over and over for the next three miles until we pull into their gravel driveway.
Whenever we return home after being away for a while, I say as we pull into the garage, “Thanks, God, that our house is still standing” (an especially meaningful prayer after our six-day evacuation during the Waldo Canyon Fire).
My most beneficial ritual is memorizing parts of the Bible. With a favorite pen (Pilot brand), I write the verses in my best penmanship. Or, sometimes I just write the first letter of each word. I speak the words out loud. As I speak the words, I also end up meditating on the meaning. Slowing down, like meditation, is inherent in memorization, so I notice more details of the section I’m memorizing.
Rituals serve to center me when I’m feeling off-kilter. Rituals calm me and slow me down. Some rituals, like the tennis ones, keep me focused and mentally disciplined. Rituals deepen my concentration. They shield me from distraction. They are guiding rails to keep me in the groove of good habits. And sometimes, I hit an ace.
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Monica Sharman is a home educator, freelance editor, and an editor at Every Day Poems. She also plays drums, dances hula, and shares what inspires her via twitter (@monicasharman). She invites you to visit her blog, Know-Love-Obey God.