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Ritual is a Means of Remembering the Human Spirit

Blog Series: Embodied Teaching
January 15, 2024
Tags: embodied teaching   |   spirit   |   Ritual   |   What Ritual Does   |   Immortal

Many of us are familiar with the scripture from Jeremiah 1:5: “before you were formed in your mother’s womb, I knew you” (NIV). It reminds us of the immortal aspect of our human spirit.  In the context of West African cosmologies, it is our spiritual essence that is with the Creator before we become human. That is to say, the aspects of our personhood which are in alignment with the cosmic design for harmony, justice, reciprocity, and balance. 

There are specific rituals that emphasize this immortal aspect of our being. Some of these rituals are commonplace in cultural expressions, like when we decide to name a child after a loved one who has passed away; remarking on that immortal aspect of that life that lives on and honors the family.

So, we say to folks as ritual: “Say your name and say the names of the ones who named you!”  This is a ritual of introduction. We see it in the South African ritual of greeting, “Sawubona,” which means I see youI see you, your spiritual essence and all those in your lineage who carry this same essence. 

Libation is another ritual we find in the Bible and in multiple cultural traditions where the immortal aspect of our human spirit is recalled, elevated, and remembered as good for those who are in the present. In a libation, we invoke their name as a way of calling upon that immortal aspect of our being.

We can construct rituals that remind us that we all come here with an immortal character.  A way of being that is not contingent upon where we live, our social or economic status, our physical abilities nor our ethnic or gender identity. Nothing about our social location was “known” by our Creator to determine our Divine Consecrated Identity. Surely, we can consider this when we think about the social location of Hagar or the young brother Joseph, Mary, or Paul. Our social location can affect our consecrated self, but it does not determine it. Ritual can remind us of who we are when our social location attempts to derail us. Ritual calls forth our consecrated identity, the divine self before we were in our mother’s womb. 

Itihari Y. Toure

About Itihari Y. Toure

Dr. Toure’s career spans all levels of education, from pre-school to higher education with a special focus on theological education. Her work in education and developing educational institutions in both the community and the church has resulted in the formation of seven independent Black schools, African centered Christian Education curricula, programs in higher education for Black women seminarians and clergy women and the significance of “sacred memory” (Sankofa) as a transformative element in Spirit Work. Dr. Toure’s most recent projects included work in curriculum and evaluation for several initiatives funded by the Lilly Endowment. Her work has supported the integration of a culturally responsive approach to addressing call and vocation, congregational work, and ministerial excellence. Dr. Toure also has a long association with the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference Inc. (“SDPC”) and she will provide assistance in the development of curriculum and programming related to the recently launched Center for Reparatory Justice, Transformation, and Remediation, a joint venture established by McCormick and SDPC directed and led by Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of SDPC. Dr. Toure comes to McCormick Theological Seminary after completing her nine-year tenure at the Interdenominational Theological Center where she initiated and directed the Sankofa Center for Data Evaluation and Quality Enhancement. Dr. Toure is an ordained Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and previously served as the Educational Director of First African Presbyterian Church in Lithonia, GA. She has served as an Accreditation Liaison with the main accrediting agency in the southeast, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission.

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