I want to share what my daily practice is. My morning ritual, which is outlined below, involves four short prayers in the morning to the air, sun, water, and earth. Then I have a prayer over meals. And finally I have a ritual at night with candles. The prayers are all taken from different sources, words that I have come across over the years that have moved me, most of them not capital-P “Pagan”.
My morning ritual:
When I first wake up, I breathe in and out three times, saying to myself as I do so:
I breathe in … I breathe out.
Then I breathe in and out three more times, this time saying to the Goddess or the world:
You breathe out [as I breathe in] … you breathe in [as I breathe out].
I heard these words recently on an ADF Podcast. I don’t know the MC’s name. This prayer helped me round out my morning practice. Breath is very important to my experiencing the world intensely. As David Abram explains: “[B]reathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next ….”
Next I go into my bathroom where there is a small octogonal window that faces east. If the sun is visible, then I address the sun. If not, I light a candle. I then say these words:
Scaling heaven, splendor encompasses you. Chariot-borne, sun-bright, and truly potent, you pour forth, bursting the clouds, giving life to sun and dawn.
These words are from the Rig Veda, which relates how Indra rose up and threw down Vritra, the flood-encompassing darkness. The sun is so important to my sense of well-being. I have to deal with “seasonal affective disorder” every winter, and I am very conscious of the length of the days.
Then I get in the shower, turn on the water, and recite these words:
Eager for their course, forth flow the life-forstering rivers. Along steep slopes their course tumbles, inundating the deserts. The torrent makes a roaring sound like rushing rivers. The fairest courser of them all, you drive on the flood. And the mountains tremble at the birth of your effulgence.
These words are also from the the Rig Veda. I like this prayer because it evokes more than one of the senses: sight, touch, and sound. It may seem strange to say a prayer to the the water coming from the shower head, but water is such a primal element, and we are so dependent on it. What’s more, water is an essential part of my coming alive to the world each day. I am one of those people who doesn’t feel right if I haven’t showered in the morning, even if I showered the night before.
Last, when I leave the house, I make sure to squat down in a secluded spot next to my house and touch the ground, making sure to get my fingers down to the dirt. I recite these words:
The god of earth came up to me many times and said, “Now” … and “Now” … and “Now”. And never once mentioned forever.
This is from a Mary Oliver poem, and it helps me quickly get grounded and be present.
That’s it. In all, it probably doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes, but I have found it really helps orient me. I didn’t set out to construct a ritual around the four Empedoclean elements. I actually just started with the sun and water rituals. And then I felt a strong need to sometimes go outside and just touch the ground. So I decided to incorporate that practice. And then finally, I heard the ADF podcast mentioned above, and the fourth element just fit right in. I would emphasize that these are not abstract elements to me though. They are not Watchtowers corresponding to the cardinal directions. They are the actual elements that I experience as I move into the world: the air I breathe, the sun I feel on my face (or an effigy in the form of a candle if it is overcast), the water flowing out of my shower head, and the earth I walk on outside.
Devotional to Matter
Since first publishing this post in 2011, I have added another part of my ritual. I have a small blue clay bowl that I keep on my altar. I fill the bowl with water each morning from my bathroom. As I return the bowl to my altar, I say this prayer, which I have adapted from Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Spiritual Power of Matter”:
You must have water for your soul [dipping my finger in the water and touching my forehead], your oil for your limbs, blood for your veins, a world for your intellect.
Son of earth, bathe yourself in the sea of matter. Plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent. Struggle against its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago. And it will raise you up to God.
This prayer reminds me to stay connected to physical existence. In the evening, I will empty the bowl with a different prayer.