140 years ago three women made a promise to one another. They promised a lifelong bond of loyalty and support, and they promised that together they were going to go out into the world and Do Good. Their motto was so incredibly simple, and yet it means so much.
How do we carry on that legacy? Today there are over 220,000 Delta Gammas all over the world. We all hope to “to foster high ideals of friendship, promote educational and cultural interests, create a true sense of social responsibility, and develop the finest qualities of character.” Delta Gamma’s young and old are committed to helping others in whatever way they can, be it through our national philanthropic efforts to make a difference in the lives of those who are visually impaired, or through individual charitable works.
But those facts are things you can find on Wikipedia. What does it really mean to be a Delta Gamma? What does it really mean to be a sorority woman? To be Greek? The heart of our sisterhood is our ritual. 140 years ago, three women didn’t just make promises. They began living a ritual.
What is a ritual? If you look it up in the dictionary, there are many definitions. At its most basic, a ritual can be defined as: “an unchanging pattern” or “an established and prescribed pattern of observance” or, “a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value.” While subtly different, in all of these cases rituals are things that are done repetitively. A ritual must be done more than once. It creates a pattern. And most importantly, it means something.
Ask most Greeks what they think of when they hear the word “ritual” and most of them will respond with “initiation.” When I think of ritual, quite honestly the first thing that comes to mind for me is Mass. Maybe that’s the Catholic School in me showing through. But for me, the word “ritual” is associated with “sacrament.” If you look that up in the dictionary, well . . . the dictionary doesn’t quite know what to make of it, so don’t bother. The best definition of a sacrament that I’ve ever heard is quite simple: a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. With that definition, there are far more than just the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church that I was raised with. And in the same way, “ritual” extends far beyond initiation.
Do the two really have anything in common? The answer is yes. While our Greek rituals are centered around what happens at initiation, and the sacraments are essentially contained in the “big seven,” the real gifts and graces we receive extend much further. Once we have been initiated it becomes our responsibility to take all of our newly bestowed knowledge and act upon it. Similarly, when we receive a sacrament, we receive a grace that is meant to move us toward action. You can’t simply receive the body of Christ and say, “Okay. I’m done now. I’m keeping this Christ to myself.” No. You are supposed to receive Christ’s presence in the Eucharist so that you can take Christ into the world and into the lives of other people. In the same way, once you are initiated, that’s when the true ritual begins. It is meant to become a part of your everyday actions. We are meant to live our ritual by acting out the promises we make to each other, by upholding the values of our founders, and by living our lives in such a way that we are no longer quite the same. Our sisterhood and brotherhood should become ritual; it should become an established pattern of living.
I can’t tell you how to live your ritual. Everyone will live theirs a little differently. For me, living my ritual means supporting my sisters in any capacity that I can. Of course, being 4000 miles away makes that a bit difficult, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still try. And the same can be said in reverse. Even though I’m much too far away from my sisters for them to really talk or spend time with me, they still find ways to build me up. This week I received one of the best presents I have ever gotten, and I’m not exaggerating. It was a simple box really, with some fun gag gifts covered in red white and blue stars-and-stripes to remind me of home, but it carried with it the thoughts and hopes and love of my sisters. There were random notes (which are all hanging on my bulletin board). There were bags and bags of candy, especially the candy I’ve been craving here. There were even boxes of Girl Scout Cookies! And then there were things like Tony’s and some instant Community Coffee, to remind me how good Southern flavors taste. But everything in that box had a purpose. It might have looked like a completely random assortment to anyone else, but to me it represented the love of my sisters who took the time to think about what would be meaningful to me. (And they totally got it right. Give me food over anything else, and I’m a happy camper. Especially chocolate.) But I guess it just goes to show that living your ritual can take many different forms.
Like our new pope. Let me just say first of all, I’m slightly obsessed with Pope Francis. He’s a different one. And I like that. He understands what it means to “live your ritual,” although he does it slightly different than like every other pope. But I think we need that. I think that God is too big and too great to be confined to just one perspective and way of doing things. While I believe that God should be represented in a way that inspires awe, I believe he also presents himself to the world as that still, small voice. While He is most certainly great, he often takes a humble form. And so each pope that is chosen represents a part of God in his own way. I think John Paul II gave us a glimpse of God’s joy, and Benedict gave us a glimpse of God’s love, and Pope Francis is now offering us a view of humility. In only 48 hours, we’ve seen how Pope Francis’ humility shines through everything he does. That is what it means to live your ritual.
So on this Founder’s Day weekend, as the words of initiation reach the ears of Delta Gamma’s new members for the first time, I challenge you to find at least one way to live your ritual better, wherever you are. Whether you are right in the middle of your chapter, or if you are halfway across the world. Whether you are Greek or not. We all have something to live out. Faith, values, ideals, hopes . . . just go out and do good.