Meaning in the Moment – Amy F. David Abdallah

Meaning in the Moment: How Rituals Help Us Move through Joy, Pain, and Everything in Between by Amy F. Davis Abdallah
Published by Brazos Press on September 26, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Life has its ups and downs, and it can feel like we're always in the middle of a transition.
Whether it's a painful end or a joyful beginning--or even an uncertain middle--theologian and minister Amy Davis Abdallah has found something that rituals. In Meaning in the Moment , she shows why we need rituals to help survive and even thrive through various seasons of life.
Starting with the foundation that rituals are a core, and underexplored, part of Christian practice, Davis Abdallah draws from theology, psychology, and personal experiences in creating rituals for herself and others. She offers practical guidance for readers to create their own meaningful rituals, including three types requiring varying levels of planning and right now, with friends, and at church.
Readers will emerge with fresh ways to bring their faith to life for themselves, their families, and their church communities--and ready to experience the transformative power of rituals.

Growing up in an evangelical church, the word “ritual” was almost a curse word. It was identified with old, dead religion where people did what they did not because they really felt it but because it was something they had always done. It was a ritual. While we should always be cautious about allowing such rituals become devoid of their meaning, as I grew up I began to see the value in ritual. As an athlete and later a coach, rituals became very important in developing foundational skills, in preparing for competition, in mentally aligning myself or my students for the tasks to come. Then I became a parent of two kids who thrive on routine and for whom life without ritual feels extremely uncomfortable and dysregulating. And then I became a pastor and found out that ritual, even in religion, was unavoidable. The question is not whether or not rituals are good or bad, but in how they can be utilized for our flourishing. That’s the question Dr. Amy F. Davis Abdallah answers in Meaning in the Moment: How Rituals Help Us Move through Joy, Pain, and Everything In Between.

Meaning in the Moment is divided into three parts, each asking a question: 1) Why do we ritualize? 2) How do we ritualize? and 3) What do we ritualize? In answering the first question, Abdallah reveals why the creation of ritual is an innate human tendency. I especially appreciated how she pointed out the unifying nature of ritual—both between our mind and bodies and between people. An example of this in Christian liturgy is the Eucharist, or Communion. The ritual of partaking in the bread and the cup is a physical action that is meant to help embody the internal movement of joining oneself with Christ. The internal self and the external self come together in this ritual. But also, all of these individual selves are joining with one another—not just in this particular place and instance, but across the whole of space and time. It’s believers joining together in one location, in one time, but also unifying with all believers in all times. It’s a ritual that helps us set aside differences and join together in unity.

The second question of how we ritualize is also important. Here, Meaning in the Moment addresses the concern of my childhood evangelical church about creating meaningless ritual. Ritual is only useful if it is meaningful. How we ritualize can go a long way in determining that. Abdallah teaches readers how to create useful, purposeful, and meaningful rituals that can guide and transform. Then, finally, Abdallah turns to a discuss of what we ritualize. This goes beyond theological liturgy and into the whole of life. Meaning in the Moment is grounded in the belief that rituals are crucial for surviving and thriving through life’s transitions, whether they are joyful beginnings, painful endings, or uncertain middles.

Throughout the book, Abdallah interweaves her own personal storyline, making the work more personable and accessible. Her writing is clear and precise, while also retaining some of the mysticalness of ritual. Ritual is often misunderstood in Christian practice. I’m still learning a proper understanding of it and Meaning in the Moment is now something I consider instrumental in my education. It’s a valuable resource for personal, communal, and ecclesiastical contexts, and provides tools for using rituals for healing, growth, and transformation.