What rituals do you have when you wake up each day?
What rituals do you have when you go to bed?
It is not hyperbole to say that whatever “waking up” habits and “pre-sleep” habits we practice affect our days and how they are lived and experienced. I’m certainly not a morning person and would sleep as late as possible I could. Even so, I do appreciate the healthy morning rituals of friends, family, and colleagues. I’ve even practiced some of them myself. I do eat a fairly big breakfast when I first wake up. I do my best, when it’s sunny, to go outside/look outside and salute the sun. I put on clothes. I listen to music. In the evening, I brush my teeth and floss. I put coconut oil or some type of cream on my face. When I’m prepping for sleep, I do my best to turn off electronic devices and use breathe to turn off my monkey mind. It doesn’t always work, of course. But the practice of healthy rituals adds something good to my life and does change my experience of each day.
Some of these rituals become a big part of who we are and, I would argue, if they are healthy, said rituals can help make us whole.
Rituals, in religion, are of course widespread. Some are just silly and unnecessary. Some are for show. Other rituals exclude people, acting as gatekeepers for the religion. And then there are those rituals that….
Ring true and lead to health, healing, and humanity.
Like the Shema, a Hebrew prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4 of the Torah:
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad – Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.
Blessed be the Name of God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them
When you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
For many Jews, it is a practice to say this in the morning as they rise and in the evening before they sleep. For Jesus of Nazareth, a Nazarene Jew, this was how he answered the tough questions of Pharisees and Sadducees, the major religious leaders who always seemed to be setting a trap. It would have been tempting, right—to snap back at the lawyer-Pharisee who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. After all, is there any good way to answer such a question?
If you’re religious or not, just rephrase the question to be: What is most important in life? When asked that question, how would you answer? Would you have to think about it? Would you be nervous, depending on who was in the room or who was asking?
What is most important in life?
It would have been easy to be distracted by the interrogation and being put on the spot. We don’t know what emotions Jesus felt in this story. Was he angry? Sad? Disappointed? Nervous? What we do know is that he answered with the Shema. He fell back on the prayer that started his mornings and ended his evenings. “Hear O Israel, God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Oh snap! That lawyer just got Shema-fied or Shema-shamed.
Sorry for that. Couldn’t resist.
Anyway, Jesus’ answer was more than a prayer. He went on to say: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
So what is most important in life? Love God [who is one and for all], love yourself, and love others.
There’s a drop-the-mic moment if I’ve ever seen one.
So back to this idea of rituals to bring this home. Look, religions are often terrible to people. Let’s be honest, they are. Way too much. But that’s because people distort religions and use them to hide behind so they can be racist, prejudice, homophobic, hateful, complacent, or ignorant of the needs of those who suffer. Religions at their core are human attempts to find a baseline, a common ground, a shared value that goes back to that not-so-simple question:
What is most important in this life?
For Jesus, it was love in a threefold way: Love the Creator of all, love yourself, love others. This was the mantra. This should be said and lived when you rise and when you lie down to sleep. This should be posted on your walls and doors; this should be on your bumper stickers and tattoos and graffiti. This: Love.
Why do we need to keep saying this? Because there are still people who use this and anything else they can to be tricky. How many so-called Christians have used this love commandment to say to a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person, or a trans person: You should love God with your whole heart, mind, and strength. But you should hate who you are—your sexuality, your love preferences, your gender identification or expression. Love God. But hate who you are?
It also happens to others, does it not? If your skin color is of a darker shade or you’re not Anglo or a U.S. citizen, you should definitely love God, but love the skin tone? Love your cultural background? Love your language? Your religious difference? The love command/Shema is threefold.
You can’t just say you love God and stop there.
You have to love yourself as you are. And you also have to love others. If you ask me—doesn’t matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. What’s most important in this life? I don’t think it’s a bad idea to consider rising each day and showing some love to life and the sun and the trees and the oxygen and the food. And then showing yourself some love and accepting yourself as you are, even celebrating it. And then, in turn, meeting others during your day and loving them too, as they are. And then, when you end your day, loving the Creator of all living things, loving yourself [regardless of the mistakes you’ve made], and being grateful for the others in your life. Even if you feel trapped sometimes by tricky or unkind people, go back to your Shema. Go back to your meeting place where love keeps appearing and thriving and living in you. Go back to love. Post THAT on your Twitter feeds and Facebook pages; war that on t-shirts and display it with tattoos.