I grew up Catholic, and oh how we loved our rituals! In fact, the rituals are most of what I remember from those early church years. I didn’t mind the rituals on a philosophical level, but I often felt like I was being asked to appreciate (and agree with) something that I didn’t really understand, which made many of those rituals feel empty and intellectually confusing (and boring). But now some years later, I’ve come to understand that we can appreciate certain rituals precisely because we don’t understand them, and that can help us understand them. Makes sense right? Let me explain.
As I got into my twenties I found my way back into Christian community by my own accord (I had stopped going to a church from age 16 – 24… maybe you can relate?) and I began to realize that we humans seem to be hard wired for routines and traditions. They can offer us a specific process, or equation if you will, to help shift our consciousness from the head to the heart. Even at sporting events we like to know the songs and melodies that play in different situations, and we enjoy singing and clapping along. There’s something about those same sights, sounds, and smells that acclimate us to a day at the stadium, and when we experience them we feel the event instead of just witness it … “feel” being the key word there. But those are routines, not rituals. Rituals are designed to have an even deeper nature, and that’s because they are specifically constructed to create a sacrosanct moment that encourages us to open our souls to something beyond pure logic. Wedding’s for instance (at least spiritual one’s) can be a good example, because they are often packed with efficacious rituals. The rituals within holy matrimony are designed to open the soul to the gravity of what’s happening, and when it’s complete we know that we’ve just experienced something beyond two people cutting a business deal across a boardroom table.
It’s for those reasons that I think rituals can still have a place within a community of seekers, but it’s critically important that we don’t try to force prescribed and narrow meanings of rituals onto others. Because even if we might no longer “believe” in the original parochial charter of a particular ritual, we can still assign our own meaningful intepretation to it if we’re given the freedom to do so. Something “pavlovian” can indeed happen during a ritual that can condition our mind to give temporary forbearance to our hearts, but it can’t happen if our intellect is screaming foul in our other ear. In fact, that may be a clue to the future of ritual within progressive Christian communities, that we can simply allow others to find their own wider meanings within traditional rituals, or even within new ones. Now that would be progress!
I’m interested to hear how you think rituals can be experienced and valued in new ways?
Read more by Eric about Progressive Christian Community.