• Be social

Worship Design Studio

Blog (Single Entry)

The Power of Ritual in Crisis

  • The Power of Ritual in Crisis

I flew into Boston Thursday night and the next morning I was wakened with a call to “stay in place”–the city was locked down. A manhunt was on for the remaining live suspect of the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

I had a workshop scheduled the next day for those who plan worship for churches in the Metro Boston area. So I spent my day locked down inside the hotel thinking about the power of ritual in the midst of fear, uncertainty, tragedy and chaos.  The workshop did get cancelled (but as most of you know, the suspect was caught) but we did a webinar in lieu of being physically together. (Watch the webinar about the power of ritual in the midst of crisis HERE)

Empty chairs evoke the presence and absence of someone... as do shoes. Installation by Shari Miller

Empty chairs evoke the presence and absence of someone… as do shoes. Installation by Shari Miller

The power of symbol:  When words are difficult to conjure up and the context renders most words inadequate, a carefully chosen and placed symbol can offer just the right “word.”

The power of ritual action:  When faced with utter helplessness, we need a way to feel like we are “doing something.” Ritual action can offer us a tangible opportunity to move our bodies and spirits away from the paralysis of helplessness.

The power of music: A cyclic song (a refrain that repeats over and over again) gives us a chance to spiral deeper with each repeat into a more calming rhythm, countering those rhythms lodged in our bodies by watching hours of “unfolding coverage” of tense events.


Candlelight vigils are both a visual symbol and a ritual action–both a way of addressing our sense of helplessness

The power of poetry and prayer: Words can soothe… but probably not lots of them. Offering reflections in a more journaling or poetic style and prayer with lots of spaces between petitions, perhaps with instrumental music underscoring, models a way of slowing down thought processes until we can hear the still small voice that says, “I am with you.”

The power of proclamation:  As we reflected about whether we ought to throw out everything planned already in times like these, I offered the idea that our brains are wired to find meaning in the space between seemingly dissimilar things. In the season of Easter, the juxtaposition of new life with the violence and tragedy, not only of Boston but of so many events this week, is in fact the Good News we proclaim as Christians… that no matter what, love wins.

Many years ago I was in London getting ready to be a guest artist on a BBC Religious TV series for Lent. I was slated to dance. The night before we aired live, the war against Saddam Hussein commenced. The production team scrambled to find a way to revamp the entire special in light of this event. They decided that I would not dance because dance, they thought, would be too “frivolous” in a serious time. Nevermind that my dancing would have utilized footage of soldiers moving into battle and I would have been a sorrowful figure in a rocking chair embodying the anxiety of those seeing their loved ones off to war. The next week I did dance and the production team acknowledged that they had missed an opportunity for the power of something “beyond words” to help us in the midst of crisis.

Click the link below to see a video prayer created by a UUA minister addressing the recent events in Boston

Click the photo above to see a video prayer created by Rev. Sue Phillips addressing the recent events in Boston

Trust the arts when the time for profound expression in the midst of crisis arrives. Trust that we need the power of visual symbol, ritual action, music, poetry and prayer. These are the ways we humans have been dealing with life’s ups and downs as long as we’ve been human.

Peace & Passion,

Dr. Marcia McFee

Go to www.worshipdesignstudio.com to access worship series ideas, articles, coaching, podcasts and videos

Watch the webinar about the power of ritual in the midst of crisis HERE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *