Once in a pastoral care class we were asked to bring an item to class that reminded us of an altar. I brought a pillow.
From the very beginning of my sons’ lives, bedtime rituals have been very important. My older son needed the ritual so that he could slow down and ease into sleep. High energy most days, so lying down and falling asleep was not natural for him. My younger probably did not need the ritual as much; he would fall asleep whenever and wherever he could as I struggled to keep up with his brother.
As babies, I quietly rocked them and always sang the same two lullabies repetitively until I felt their little muscles go lax. Then I would lay them in bed, barely awake, so that they would drift off peacefully. When they got to toddler/ pre-school stage, I would read a book with them in their beds and we would say the Lord’s Prayer together before singing the same two lullabies.
Once they reached school age, we added chapter books: Harry Potter, Eragon, the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Percy Jackson, Winnie-the-Pooh, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, and way too many others to list. We would read a chapter or two each night. We would then discuss how the hero/ine was dealing with whatever situation s/he was experiencing and what we might do differently. Afterwards would come the prayers with space for naming those we worried about, always finishing with the Lord’s Prayer. They were way too cool for lullabies by then. This ritual continued until just last year.
Starting high school was the end for each of the guy’ bedtime ritual (although the older one would still sometimes sneak into the younger’s bed for a specific book or season); now young men, 18 and 15, the older is away at college, the younger is usually working on homework when I head to bed. Our nightly pillow talk has gone the way of the lullabies, but we all miss it. As a family, that bedtime ritual time has become a cherished and precious memory.
This might not seem like much of a spiritual ritual – not overtly religious or ostensibly about God. It is, however, all about checking in with each other’s lives and worries. By discussing the hero/ine’s troubles, we were able to delve into the ethical nuances and what we believe. We were able to see how fate or God was perceived in each story. And when asked to bring something that reminded me of an altar, I chose a pillow, because in those fluffy, warm moments each night, I could ponder being both the parent to my children and being a child of God myself.
~The Rev Amy Haynie, Episcopal priest, blogs at amyphaynie.blogspot.com