Traditional Christian concepts of “rituals of healing” tend to focus on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting and the observance of the Sabbath, among others. Sacraments and practices like confession, communion, anointing with oil or the washing of feet can also have a healing significance. But our world is also filled with a seemingly infinite number of other private and public ritualistic ways that people seek to heal and renew mind and body.
Recently my wife showed me some Facebook photos of a group of her colleagues who attended an event called: “Happy Goat Yoga.” The publicity for the event proclaims: “Exercise, animals and positive people are all recommended to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. We’ll have them all! The perfect cure for a chaotic week. Enjoy yoga class while over-friendly (and oh so cute!) pygmy goats run around, under and over you!”
My first reaction was: “What????” But the pictures did not lie. The smiling faces of her co-workers; some on the ground in yoga poses with tiny goats on their backs suggested this might be as therapeutic as promised. Goat yoga: just another example of a diverse world created by God, full of variety and creative people who devise innumerable ways to find joy in God’s creation.
God is also very clever. Christ tells us that the two most important things we can do are to love God and to love our neighbors in the same way that we would love ourselves. That’s not just a rule designed to help others. God created us such that when we care for others, we are also cared for. And because of how God made us, the ritual of serving others is one of the ways we find personal healing and renewal. Just as Christ’s extravagant grace was and is poured out for us, we are called to pour out ourselves for others. And like God’s many other miracles, when we pour out ourselves to heal others, we are healed as well.
But those who approach service with the belief that they are the only party with something to give are missing the point. God made us to be in community, and that means both parties receive something when people help each other. Recognizing that serving others is a two-way transaction is critical.
This post is not a plug for our next all-church mission trip. (Please join us.) In my experience, the time we spend focused on the needs of others is sacred and leads to deeper spiritual growth, healing and renewal. Service is a ritual that can be as spiritually meaningful and life-altering as a wedding or baptism or the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
There are a seemingly infinite number of creative ways that people find to help one another. During this Lenten season, consider how you can create a new ritual of service to others. The Pygmy goats are optional.
Ty Gomez is a NorthPark member, PCUSA ordained elder, and soccer dad. In his spare time, he practices law, plans more unfinished woodworking projects, and cooks for the women in his home.