My friend Nomvula was feeling sad and had asked me to be with her and her family to perform a ritual with her father. He was very sick and the family felt a sense of urgency that this ritual take place with all present.
Nomvula told me that she found it hard to think that this ritual might be their last one together as a family. During the preparation, Nomvula was conscious of her deep sadness.
I thought about Simon Peter. In my mind’s eye I could see Peter getting irritable with Jesus at the Last Supper, and not wanting to partake in the ritual Jesus performed. Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet. Peter says, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus replies, “If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.” (John 13:8) I thought about Nomvula going into the ritual for her father, her fear that it would be her last ritual with him, her fear of being overwhelmed by her sadness and by the family’s emotions. Like Peter, there are parts of her that did not want to participate as she knew that her deep fears for her father would be brought to the surface in the ritual.
Rituals enable us to bring our fears, restlessness, sadness, and pain to the surface. In recognising what ritual symbolises, we affirm our own reality and ask for the grace to let go. We need to hear Jesus’ gentle affirmation. His words to Peter are just the kind of assurance we need when we feel sad, restless, oversensitive or confused. Remember Jesus’ words: “You too are clean.” Jesus gives us the strength to face our fears. We should not be afraid.
A ritual is also a remembrance process that helps us to begin to integrate into a new reality. Nothing will be lost. When we allow ourselves to enter into ritual, we start to see things differently. The gift of the merciful Jesus consoles Peter and he will do the same for us. What fears, restlessness, sadness or pain do I need consolation for today?