Routine or Ritual?

Do you recognize the window to the right? It's one of the 15 beautiful stained glass windows in our church sanctuary!

I'm always inspired by stained-glass, because of the history that it holds for our faith. For over a thousand years, churches installed stained glass windows that depicted stories from the Bible; in a world where the vast majority of the population couldn't read, stained glass windows were one of the best ways for people to learn the stories of the faith. Now that almost everyone can read, churches usually don't install windows with pictures (because those are quite expensive!). But because we've come to associate stained glass so closely with churches, most congregations feel like they almost have to install some sort of glass in their worship space—so they usually choose just an abstract, colored glass. 

What's interesting is that people can think about our modern stained glass in very different ways. If you're aware of the history of stained glass, every week when you walk into the worship space, you can have a ritual of gazing at that glass and thinking, "Wow, for thousands of years the church has been trying to share faith in whatever way people can understand it. What's a creative way that I can share my faith with someone in a way that they will understand?" On the other hand, if you're not really thinking (or if you aren't aware of the history of stained glass) you can walk into the sanctuary and think, "Oh how pretty." And soon, seeing the stained glass is part of your routine and you never give it another thought.

That's the difference between a routine and a ritual. A routine is something that we do all the time out of habit, without any thought; a ritual is something that we do all the time, but we do it precisely because we're thinking about how we can use it to strengthen our faith. Just about any activity can fit in either category. Attending a church service on Sunday morning can be a routine, because that's just what we've been raised to do; or attending a church service can be a ritual, because we attend knowing that it will helps us connect to other believers and to God. It's entirely a matter of perspective and mindset.

What in your life has become a routine that you need to break out of? Is there something that was once a meaningful ritual that helped you connect to God, but over time has become a routine that you hardly think about? Are there any new rituals that you need to bring into your life—something that you'll do regularly in order to experience God more fully?

If you're looking for a good place to start, you can always try thinking about the stained glass while you wait for worship to begin!

—Andrew Garnett