Monday, July 12, 2010

Feeding Fish and Other Rituals

Flickr photo by petitshoo, creative commons
The granddaddy's knee was hurting him, so he stayed in the easy chair.
"Don't worry, Papa," Sam said, getting up from the couch. "I know what to do."
Todd and I followed him into the garage and watched as he took the Folgers jar from Papa's workbench and lifted the lid of an old trashcan. "This is where Papa keeps the fish food," Sam said, dipping the jar for a big scoop. "You gotta put the lid back on tight or bugs can get in."

Sam led us out to the small pond behind Honey and Papa's house, the one Todd and I christened The Drowning Pit back before Sam could swim. "Keep your eyes on the water," Sam said. "They know when we're coming."

Sure enough. As we padded across the grass to the edge of the water, at least a hundred brim lined up side by side, kissing rings on the water's surface, waiting.
"You take handfuls and throw it out a little, not too close to the edge, so there's lots of room and everybody gets some." Sam threw an arc of fish food out. In a split second, fish lips appeared at each granule, sucking it down. Our edge of the pond became a whirling mass of fish, ready to respond to the movement of our arms as we cast the food across the water, orchestrating a fish dance.

It's a Ramsey ritual, the feeding of the five hundred. Fish, that is.
Papa does it every day, cares for his pets in the giant fishbowl of his backyard. They respond to his footsteps, to his voice, just as Sam does as he takes the ritual for himself.

Unfortunately I had my own Saturday-at-the-in-laws'-ritual to perform. As we happily flung fish food, I managed to sink a bare foot into the only hill of fire ants in the entire yard. The fire ants responded as they always do, quietly climbing onto The Giant Foot Invader, waiting for Chief Fire Ant to give the signal, and then all chomping down on my flesh in one painful sting. But the ritual wasn't over yet. Then came The Hopping Around, The Slapping and The Yelling, and finally The Retreating To The House To Take A Benadryl.
I don't really like this ritual of mine.

But I do like other Ramsey rituals.
They usually involve amazing food.

Remember this photo? I shared it in a post about the wonder of sweet tea, but it's a great illustration of the most beautiful Ramsey ritual of all: Ramsey dinner.
I fell in love with this ritual early in my Ramseyhood.

Ramseys love good home cooking, and they endure a lot to prepare it. When they gather in mass, they'll pull all nighters, drinking coffee and cooking pig. They borrow tables from the church, load them with beautiful food, and then they eat and eat. And laugh and tell stories.
After the meal is over, they'll squeeze in together on the huge sectional couch and talk and take naps sitting up. They look at old photo albums, and they'll tell more stories until they get hungry again. It's a nice way to spend time together.

But this Saturday I saw something new during the meal preparations. As Honey (Grandma) sat at the kitchen table, making the chicken salad for our dinner, my Sarah pulled up a chair beside her for a chicken salad lesson. I watched Honey teach Sarah how to cut the chicken meat fine with scissors, to dice the celery into teeny little cubes, to add dried cranberries and cashews and the tiniest bit of mustard.

It warmed my heart.
Sarah was no longer just going along with the ritual. She was taking it as her own, just like Sam with the fish food.

Aren't family rituals wonderful? They give us a way to express love to each other. They show the world what we value, and they give us opportunities to participate in each other's lives, to build connections. Our rituals say who we are.

It's funny to me that as much as I LOVE family rituals, I've spent so much of my faith life suspicious of rituals in the church.
When we do something over and over, like communion or scripted prayers, won't we forget the meaning behind it? We don't want to turn into the Pharisees, so attached to rules and practices that we forget the loving God behind them all.
But gradually I changed my mind.

I now treasure the rituals we do at church, the Lord's Supper, the choruses of "Thanks be to God," the Lord's Prayer, the Baptisms, the acolytes' lighting of the candle and carrying in of the Bible. I love the way that they give us structure to be with God, to express our love for Him, to get lost in His presence, to build connections. These things that we do say who we are.

How do you feel about rituals?
Do you have favorite ones at church? I'd love to hear about your most loved family rituals!
Please share!

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky


Kathy said...

I find I love rituals more and more as I grow older. Someday I'm going to analyze that. I actually miss the specific ritual of my grandfather passing communion at our little country church when I was a child. Everything from the way he folded the linen napkin to the prayer over the bread and wine felt heavy with meaning.

Alise said...

While I think that any ritual (including family rituals) can become rote and uninteresting, I have found some supreme joy in them as well. I particularly like the ritual of communion at church. Honestly, I wish we celebrated it MORE often.

My favorite family tradition is our weekly (less now with Jason in school) family game night. It's always fun to bust out a game and sit down together as a family and play. And now that my kids are getting older, we can play stuff that is a bit more enjoyable to everyone (IOW, no more Candy Land!).

Cathy said...

Oh the rituals....being a life long Episcopalian, we are deeply entrenched in the rituals, but each time they can bring on different meaning. The breaking of the bread before communion, as the priest lifts it high for all to see and to offer to all and hearing the bread break at the very moment.

Watching people walk up to communion and then return to their seat. Not just one time, but knowing I have watched these people over 30 years and know their story. Brings tears to my eyes.

Saying the same prayers each Sunday, but having a different meaning as I grow in Christ.

Ritual....predictability, stability, lovingly offered to God's people by God's people.

Cathy said...

I forgot to say thank you Rebecca for your wonderful posts that feed me.

Susie said...

I love the fish "kissing rings" on the water! Perfect! Last night Juliana asked me to teach her the words and chords to one of the songs I wrote in college. It was lovely and wondrous as if she listened to my story and wanted to tell it to someone else! A passing down of a bit of oral tradition in a sense!I hope that we are developing a tradition of playing guitar together!

Julie Gillies said...

Hi Rebecca,

Ahhh, rituals. One of my favorites is taking a long walk after dinner with anyone in my family. The conversations just seem to flow and it always turns out to be a good thing.

When my kids were young, we used to have a "TV Picnic" on Friday nights. We'd rent a movie, lay a blanket on the floor in front of the TV, and picnic right there. Lots of FUN memories.

Heidi Mann said...

One of our at-home summertime rituals, originally from my mom, is to have -- at some point in the summer -- corn on the cob and strawberry shortcake for supper, and everyone can have as much of each as he/she wants! The shortcake is a slight variation (a bit sweeter) of Bisquick biscuits.

At church, I find different holiday rituals esp. meaningful -- candlelight worship at Christmas, stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thurs. (or as our current church does it, on Good Fri.), the same triumphant hymns every single Easter morning! During the more "ordinary" weeks of the church year, I appreciate the traditional liturgy -- kyrie, gloria, etc. -- and all the more so after I've been away from it for a while if the congregation has been using something different. Then to come back to the melodies I grew up singing is like "coming home."

Beth.. One Blessed Nana said...

what a great post. we all have so many rituals that have been passed down to us and now find my daughters doing the same with their children.

you have a really great blog here! looking forward to stopping back by.

Jenny said...

Oh, Rebecca...I grew up Catholic, and I definitely loved my Jesus but the churches I attended wanted to smother the everyday love of Christ with the pounding in of rituals over relationship, so like you described came and my big rebellion was going non-denominational, smaller Christ centered churches that were light on Traditions...and also like you now I dearly want to impress ritual and traditions that bring us in line with those who have believed before us. The legacy of faith that has meaning and is worshipful. And at the mention of Psalm 139 I melt...because I first came upon his words there in college and I remembered that those words spilled over me like a balm....He KNOWS me (all his children) deeply and full well....Hallelujah!

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

You're a beautiful storyteller. I so enjoyed this.

On favorite rituals: I like the stability of ritual and liturgy -- though I enjoy the excitement of mixin' it up, too. One of my favorite church rituals is reciting the Apostle's Creed each Sunday.

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

Your writing is so beautiful! I feel refreshed.

Two things in particular struck me:

I love this moment when our children go beyond simply participating in the rituals, and begin to take them on as their own, learning how to make them happen and realizing they are more than just followers, but active participants.

Your post also made me think about how much I love going to a church that celebrates communion every Sunday. I didn't grow up in such a church (we had communion maybe once a month), but it has become an important part of the weekly worship experience for me—one of the few things that is constant and predictable in my quirky church.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I like rituals simply because it's the structure that gives us a sense of peace to focus.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

I love hearing these ritual stories. It's a real gift to hear what is meaningful to you.

As I mentioned in the post, I was always suspicious of churches that did communion each Sunday--until we moved to France and my new Episcopal church did that, along with all sorts of other rituals new to me.
I rebelled at first, noticing every little signal that others weren't thinking about what they were doing. But as time went by, I started loving the practice more and more. It's sort of a long story, but it was part of opening up to a different way of experiencing God. More a listening and reflecting way, rather than a doing way.

Anyway, your stories are spiritual food for me. Thank you for sharing them!

Amy Sullivan said...

I grew up Catholic and found the rituals cold and without passion or meaning. However, within the last week I attended mass for a funeral. Oh, how I missed all of it. There seemed to be something so pure about the many, many people who have come before me and stood repeating the same things to Our God.It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

The Ramsey family sounds like they have a blast together! With lots of love, too.

When I was younger, I only wanted contemporary/non-traditional worship. But as I matured and grew older, I have a much greater appreciation for ritual, tradition and the mystery and comfort of it all. I have even become attracted to the Catholic church in many ways. The Presby church I attend is pretty well steeped in tradition, and we do very well there.