A week after a terrorist bomb killed more than 20 and left scores injured, the people of Manchester will make their way through the streets of their grief-stricken city in one of its most traditional and religious events: the Whit Walk.
This will be a moment where the old Manchester meets the new, when the Christian tradition of the walk, commemorating the Feast of Whitsun — or Holy Trinity — meets the secular rituals that have come to define public mourning since this increasingly irreligious nation said goodbye to Princess Diana, who died exactly 20 years ago.
I arrange my Mondays around a certain ritual, a yoga class taught by my gifted teacher, Mireille (Mimi) Mears. She’s from Belgium. From Charleroi, to be exact. It's about 30 miles away from Brussels. Her nephew lives a few minutes away from the attack site with his wife and three children under the age of 6. Mimi always closes our class with a ritual, this prayer/meditation/homily (with her beautiful Belgian accent) and yesterday was no exception.
As I waited in the room heated to 105 degrees, my friend Molly looked for a sliver of floor space for her yoga mat. “I probably need a more relaxing type of yoga,” I whispered, almost apologizing for bringing my type-A body to the crowded Bikram class, known for its intense heat and addictive practitioners.
At exactly 10 a.m., the yoga teacher entered the room: I stood in unison with the other students, much like I rise for the procession at my church on Sundays. Surprisingly, much of what draws me to Bikram yoga also brings me back each week to the Episcopal church.
Back home in California, we recently purchased one of those one-cup-at-a-time Kuerig coffee makers after running through two high-end traditional coffee machines in 18 months. (Two writers in one house equals a high rate of coffee consumption.) While I think it was the proper choice for us – we waste less coffee this way, and have bought one of those reusable pods so that we’re not always using recyclable-but-still-plastic-and-not-terribly-ethical disposable pods pre-filled with the coffee of our choice.
I brought home a pound or so of ground coffee from Ethiopia and we’ve tried to get the amount of grounds and water pressure just right to replicate the drink I’d had in Africa.
Ethiopian coffee ceremony a la Keurig is too fast, too easy, and much too weak in myriad ways.
In coffee ceremonies back in Africa, the beans were ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. They’d be uneven. Chunky. When steeped, the coffee needed to be sieved over and over to make the final product perfectly potable. It took time, patience, and a practiced hand. It also required a different kind of regard for the act itself: the woman preparing the coffee wasn't simply making a drink. She was presiding over something humble and holy.
Even if I could replicate the grounds (I do have a Le Creuset mortar and pestle that mostly serves as decoration on my kitchen window sill), and sieved the elixir until it was just right, it still wouldn’t be.
Why? No frankincense and all the sacred intention that comes with it.
We often hear that there’s a “war on religion,” that certain expressions of Christianity are under attack by secularists seeking a new age of post-God. And while things may or may not be easy for Christians, our rituals are not prohibited by law, like some of our Native American neighbors.
Until recently, it was illegal for Native Americans to acquire bald eagle feathers and parts – relics used for a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies – by any means other than family or the National Eagle Repository in Denver.
One of my most vivid childhood memories of Halloween 1977, the year my family moved to a new town in Connecticut right after the school year had begun. I don't recall what my costume was, but I do remember going door-to-door with my father, meeting new neighbors and collecting a heavy bag of candy, as the suburban warren of Cape Cods and manicured lawns morphed into an other-worldly fairyland.
I was 7 years old and the new kid on the block, so when the cover of darkness fell at sunset, I hadn't a clue where I was. As my father deftly navigated our way home in the crisp autumn night, it felt like he had performed a magic trick. When the morning came, I couldn't believe that our adventure the night before had been on these same streets. To my young imagination (and heart) it felt as if we had been walking through Narnia or Rivendell rather than a sleepy New England suburb.
A few years after that, my family stopped celebrating Halloween. We had become born-again Christians and our Southern Baptist church frowned on the practice. Halloween, I was taught, was an occult holiday (or maybe even Satanic!) and good Christians should have nothing to do with it.