Tuesday’s Word: ritual

ritual:  an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite; observance of set forms in public worship

Ritual was anathema in the church of my childhood. I can’t recall ever having been instructed as to why it was wrong, but I came to the conclusion that it had something to do with substituting mechanical actions for real true belief; that following any formal ritual was a sort of religion-by-rote for those who had not prayed through to a genuine ecstatic experience of the living God. At the very least, conforming to ritual would surely be limiting, confining, Spirit-quenching.

Please understand that I am not discounting the sincerity of the exuberant saints among whom I grew up; many of them did indeed demonstrate faith that would move mountains and abiding joy in the face of great hardship.

For me, though, the anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-enthusiastic style of church meeting was detrimental, to say the least. I – the preacher’s oldest kid, no less! – was expected to beam with the barely-veiled glory of God’s wonder-working hand on my life at all times. Good Christian girls didn’t let the devil steal their shine!

My choice: deceit (or at best exaggeration) followed by guilt, or honesty resulting in condemnation.

As I grow older and continue to work through many layers of deep-seated depression, I am learning that ritual, at its heart, is neither robotic nor repressive; it is, in fact, a healing balm for my soul, a means of saving grace. It is a great comfort to lean into time-honored practices when I have no strength to forge a new path, to repeat well-worn words when I can’t manage coherent composition, to relax into the kinship of common custom.

 …ritual and symbol are as necessary to human beings as air and water. They mark us as human and give us identity…Rituals bind a community together, and also bind individuals to a community. ~ Kathleen Norris

2 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Word: ritual

  1. Thank you for writing this…I was actually formulating my own piece about this very thing.

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