Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ritual and the Human Journey

Whilst sitting in a solemn mass I pondered the role of ritual as a marker of significant moments in the human journey.Our ancestors used ritual to mark many things in their lives. The achievment of a goal (perhaps a successful hunt), the marking of life transitions (from child to adult for example) or an important date in the annual cycle of life.

As Christianity achieved a foothold it embraced the concept of ritual and provided rituals within the church that would mark these dates, times and occasions. Eastern religions too embrace, to this day, a series of festivals and observations that are ritual in nature which unite the community.  In our post modern world, sadly, we have all too frequently abandoned the rituals.

We are left with little that marks the passing of significant occasions, except an observance of public holidays that are based on religious festivals that have little meaning for many anymore.

But alongside the ritual markers for significant events are many other rituals that either provide a basis for helping us to get through the daily grind of life or allow us to highlight the things which are important to us. How about the ritual of love between two people? Could there be any ritual more deeply associated with a relationship than the rituals of intimacy? Or what about the ritual of sitting with friends over a good meal? Or just a simple cup of coffee?

So have we abandoned ritual? I think not. Yet we have an almost instinctive suspicion of ritual to mark more significant events. I think there is a desperate need, in the scrabble to find meaning in life, for us to reassert ritual in observance of life's passing journey.

Could I suggest to anyone thinking about the value of ritual to take the time to attend a religous ritual and just to observe. For me, in the western tradition in which I was raised, the pinnacle of this is the Anglo-Catholic high mass. For anyone who has this practiced nearby, there is a deep value to be found in participating in this ritual. For myself there is something that reconnects me with those who have gone before. I can, for a moment, indulge all my senses in a ritual which has its roots in earliest western tradition. I can recommend it regardless of your belief or otherwise in supernatural beings and concepts.

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