Somewhere between the choreographed singing and the cupcake consumption, things got serious. The weight of the moment had caught up to my daughter and her motley crew of five-year-old friends.
Preschool was ending. They stood at the precipice of kindergarten.
“Now we come to the bridge ceremony,” a teacher said to us parents and grandparents and siblings gathered outside. We were in camping chairs and on picnic blankets, sitting in a large semicircle. It was early evening, cool. Birdsong in the air. Tall, tall trees swaying.
The preschool graduates-to-be shifted nervously on their colorful mats.
“We will call each student’s name,” the teacher continued. “They’ll be given a yellow flower and come to the top of the bridge. They’ll throw their flower into the stream and wave goodbye as it floats away. And when they cross to the other side of the bridge, they’ll be a kindergartener.”
Simple. Visual. Poignant.
Each name was read. Each student stepped forward. Some ran to collect their flower; others walked slowly, bashfully. Some spent time at the top of that bridge, waving. Others barely paused as they threw their flower into the gently flowing water below.
A bridge. Some water. A yellow flower. A crossing. And each student invited into the moment, the same sequence of events and yet unique for each.
The bridge they’d crossed who-knows-how-many times suddenly infused with elevated significance. This time would be different.
Ritual is important. It helps us mark the passing of time and commemorate significant events. Ritual can be transformative, healing. And ritual is so often found and experienced at the heart of religion, faith and spirituality.
Sacraments. The Mass. Blessings and prayers. These things are all more than ritual, of course. But ritual is necessary. The words, the gestures, the stuff. It all makes up an experience that transcends, that ushers God’s Spirit into the moment in a specific and awesome way.
A preschool graduation is not a sacrament. But still, there was ritual: a specific, intentional act made to manifest an as-yet-unseen reality. And what stood out to me that night, sitting there in the grass, was something that is as incredible as it is obvious: These moments of ritual are necessarily made from the raw materials of our lives.
Gathered together and transformed. Things seen and passed by each day suddenly glistening with newly infused meaning and wonder. The stuff of our very lives made to hold more than we can know.
Look around you. Look at the raw material of your life. God is there, waiting for you. Waiting to be made known in simple acts like the breaking of bread and the crossing of bridges and the slow drifting descent of a single yellow flower.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.