"There is a tribe in east Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception, as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother's mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. . . . This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time."
— Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart

Many of us yearn for the kind of beauty, meaning, and coherence reflected in this African ritual. We admire traditional cultures which give ceremony and celebration their proper places in the center of the private and public lives of the people. We marvel at the stories of Celtic men and women who structured their days and deeds around blessings and prayers. We are deeply moved by the ways Native Americans honor the traditions of their ancestors with regularity and respect.

In fragmented and frantic modern cultures, ritual is usually given short shrift. Most people are barely conscious of their everyday rites as when and where they get their first cup of coffee, ways of greeting others, or their bedtime routines. We try desperately to muster enthusiasm for birthdays and anniversaries. And in the context of weddings and funerals, we're often so concerned about whether we have done it properly, we fail to honor the meaning of the event.

It seems to take every ounce of our energy to do something special for the celebrations of Thanksgiving, New Year's, Valentine's Day, and Memorial Day. And if we are members of a religious community, we are constantly challenged to pay attention to the nuances of liturgy and the rich sources of tradition behind religious holidays and seasons.

Anthropologists and historians of religion have pointed out that ritual assumes a prominent and resonant place in people's lives during periods of great stress and widespread soul-searching. That may explain why there is a renaissance of ritual experimentation today in our world.

Ritual has its genesis in the movements of the soul and our need to express deep emotions and intuitions in story, symbol, and action. Through prayers, blessings, rites, ceremonies, and celebrations, we honor our connections with God, others, community, nature, the world, and the whole comic dance.

Ritual need not be complicated or bound by tradition. A ritual can be personal or communal. It can be as simple as a grace said before a meal and as elaborate as a day-long liturgical celebration. What rituals do is give us a way to ground our yearnings and our devotion in concrete activities.

We're making May "ritual month." We have looked through our book reviews, quotes and practices databases, and collection of book excerpts to find rituals for your use and to spark your imagination as you create your own. Be sure to also check out the books where we found these ideas. And if you have a favorite ritual, please email us a description as we are developing more resources about rituals for Spirituality & Practice.

A Month of Rituals: A Resource Companion