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BW@H Pillar #3: Ritual

Black Women in a white choir robes

Every morning after dropping my daughter off to school, I return home and go to my office. Not to start the work day, but to start my day. I am able to work from home and am fortunate to have a very flexible schedule. As such, I claimed the 9am hour for myself.

During this time I light incense and a beeswax tealight candle that’s on my altar. I turn on a meditative playlist that usually includes soft piano and water flowing in a creek kinds of sounds. I pull my lap desk off the shelf and put it on the couch. On the lap desk are a Christian daily devotional, Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, my journal, and a purple ink pen. Then, I open the Insight Timer app on my phone to find a five to ten minute guided meditation to practice.

My morning ritual to start the day is to meditate, read something inspiring and affirming, journal, and pray. This is one of the rituals that I have cultivated over the years to get myself ready to face the world. This ritual is sacred and necessary. At times, especially when my depression flares up, this ritual saves my life.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a ritual is defined as “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” Rituals are often associated with religious, spiritual, and cultural practices. Yet they can also be secular and public in nature. They can be performed with other people or alone. Ritual is a little bit of a fuzzy concept.

They are different from habits or just having a way of doing something. Rituals can elevate what you are returning to do because it has purpose, meaning. Performing a ritual is an elevated way of being present. Or, a ritual is just a thing we do like sing happy birthday and then add the Stevie Wonder version at the end because Black people are cool like that!

For many of us, rituals begin early in life. Reciting the “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” prayer before going to bed with a parent or other caregiver on bended knee next to you. Saying grace before a meal. Singing your favorite sports team’s song (Fly, Eagles, Fly) after they score a touchdown is a ritual.

In the context of the Black Women at Home Project, however, rituals are relevant because of how they can benefit us. In this space, the focus on ritual as a pillar for how Black women can be well at home, serves a higher purpose.

According to Pew Research Center, Black folk are among the most religious people in the United States. The connection between enslavement, Christianity as well as the Civil Right Movement and religion (Christian or the Nation of Islam, for example) root the notion of ritual in religious tradition or spiritual practice for many contemporary Black women. Even a cursory google search about Black women and rituals will reveal a plethora of scholarly articles about Black women’s religious experiences sprinkled in with our haircare regimens.

And, ever since landing on these shores, Black women have held onto the practices of their indigenous culture. Weaving orishas with saints, many of us have never let go of the old ways. In fact, many embrace rituals as old as time. In the 21st century, some Black women have left the Church in search of connecting to traditional religious and spiritual practices of West Africa. We’re re-finding the Diasporic advent of those African practices in expressions such as Santeria, Voodoo, Candemble, and more. Others of us have finally learned that it’s okay to give thanks to Ancestors, maybe even call on their energy to help us, while staying on a Christian path. All to say that for many Black women, ritual is deeply connected to the spiritual aspects of our lives.

We can participate in rituals with community as well as by ourselves. While at home, we can engage in all kinds of rituals to lift us up, help us heal, renew our focus, and express our gratitude. We can make up rituals, share them with others, keep them to ourselves, and practice them together. It’s really a choose your own adventure way of life.

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