By Jeff Newcomer Miller, Dialogue Resource Team, member of Albuquerque Mennonite Church

At Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS where I attended for about two years, a woman would do a brilliant job with explaining growth and change to our children. She had a jacket from Guatemala that was a patchwork of fabric and patterns sewn together. It was a brilliantly colored jacket and she gave each of the children a chance to wear it during special children’s story times. She would talk about how each of the children and even each adult was a collection of experiences and stories that were always a part of their story. Some of these were bad and some were beautiful, but however they were experienced they were a part of our lives and who we are.

This memory comes back to me now as my children and so many children are returning to school and starting a new year. Many of us have schedules that are focused on this annual ritual or cycle of a new school year. We plan summer vacations and events around the “summer schedule” and then things seem to just get busy once August comes rolling around. For our children this means that a new school year marks a new beginning, a new opportunity and challenge. I recall feeling like each new year I was “re-creating” myself and contemplating who I wanted to be that year. For others, this “new year” is a time when we get back into routines and our lives have a bit more order. No matter how you view this it is a ritual that marks a change in many lives like a cycle or season. Even when school-aged children are not part of your life you can see the tell-tale markers of this change. In Albuquerque you can’t miss this. College students flood the city. Restaurants are suddenly full again and traffic returns to its normal busyness.

This change happens each and every year and marks more and more patches on our patchwork of life. We note this with various rituals and exercises: kids get school supplies, teachers buy supplies as well as organize rooms, and the rest of us move back into familiar schedules and busier streets. What rituals do you do to mark this change every year? How do you engage with this change or how does it affect you? If you don’t ritualize this change, what rituals do you enact with new beginnings or change? What other opportunities are there for you to mark changes in life, such as retirement, new pastors, new jobs, new opportunities? What rituals will you enact to mark such events?

Rituals are the things that give us meaning both personally and in our congregations. As people of faith, we believe that God is ultimately leading, co-directing or pulling us (sometimes despite us) toward a greater good. When we ritualize change and note it in our lives then we acknowledge this belief and hope for the future. So, how will you note the patches of this year and what does your life-long patchwork look like?

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