by Jordan Miller-Stubbendick

Butter, flour, sugar. My hands level off baking soda and measure out vanilla. I add a cup of chocolate chips and then toss in an extra handful for good measure. I click on the mixer, and my breathing deepens. My heart rate slows, and I relax into the familiarity of giving my hands work to do. This action calms and soothes my mind.

Every week of quarantine for Covid-19, then beyond, as venturing back out into the world was allowed, I have baked muffins. I have rotated among a few favorite recipes, with the occasional variation here or there.

Baking muffins has become a weekly ritual that has given me moments of familiarity during this unusual year. When I don’t know how to pray, I bake. When I can’t form the words to express what’s in my heart, I open my kitchen cabinets, pull eggs and milk out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven, and create something tangible and nourishing.

I have measured and melted and mixed my way through so many uncertainties this year. When my mind is spinning, pulling out a favorite recipe and blending ingredients help me slow down and gain perspective.

We need rituals to anchor us when we feel like we are drifting away in our fears. Rituals are especially helpful in times of change or anxiety. This year looks different now than it did at the beginning. School takes place either with masks and hand sanitizer or through an electronic screen. Our workplace is at home rather than in an office. We can’t gather to celebrate or lament in groups of friends as we used to. Planned trips to see beloved friends or family are on hold.

During so much change, what stays the same?

That we are beloved children of a present and active God never changes. No matter what. God loves us despite Covid-19, the appalling violence inflicted on people of color in our country, and the fires that are ravaging the western United States.

Rituals — actions done with presence and intention — can help us remember this. Rituals tell our bodies and brains that something is about to begin or shift, so get ready. They have the power to move us into a different frame of mind and openness of heart. Prayer before a meal is a ritual. So is celebrating a friend’s birthday with a party (even over Zoom)! Lighting a candle is a ritual.

Rituals that ground and nourish us can be connected to faith, but they don’t have to be. They help us feel more centered, calmer, especially when life and the world around us are anything but peaceful.

Rituals help us to care for ourselves, to remember that we matter. The way we care for ourselves and others is the way we care for the world. Sometimes care looks like baking, talking with a friend, making a cup of tea, taking a walk or a nap. It all matters and is important. When we take the time to care for ourselves, it is easier and more authentic to extend that same care to the world that God loves so much.

Baking muffins won’t change the world. It doesn’t end racial injustice or reverse the devastation of Covid-19. But it helps me create something delightful and good in the midst of so much that is not good. It changes the state of my mind and heart. Baking nourishes me so that I can nourish others.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God sees us, knows us, and has compassion for us. God proclaims, “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15b-16a). Rituals help us slow down enough to hear the still, small voice of God’s love that is always within and around us. We are held in God’s love when times are calm and when they are chaotic. I remember this best when I use my hands to combine ingredients into a treat that I can touch and taste and share with those I love.

Discussion questions

1. What rituals help you to feel calmer and more grounded?

2. Is there one small thing you could try adding to your day or week that could help you be more centered?

Ideas include a reading one entry each morning or evening from a book of daily readings, starting your day with a cup of tea or coffee, making a daily or weekly gratitude list, or scheduling a weekly or monthly phone date with a friend.

3. How does doing something with your hands help your mind remember that you are held in God’s love?

Closing prayer

Loving God, In times of chaos and confusion, you ground us in your never-failing love. Through the power of rituals, help us center our hands and hearts on your goodness and know we are your beloved. Remind us to care for ourselves as we care for others. Help us remember that you care for us, always.

Jordan Miller-Stubbendick is an ELCA pastor. She lives outside of Buffalo, N.Y. with her husband, two sons, and golden retriever.