Rituals. We all have them. Sport-stars have pre-game rituals. Lovers have intimate rituals. Families have rituals. Cultures, societies and religions all have their own rituals.
So often when we think of rituals, we think of old-fashioned, staunch practices. A boring church service at Christmas. The pomp of a military parade. The inflexible practices of yore.
Why do we have rituals? Do we have them to celebrate the past, or protect the future? Could it be both? Why do we brush our teeth? Is it so we remember our baby teeth, lost many years ago or to protect our mouths for many years to come? Certainly brushing teeth is an important, yet informal ritual. What about having dinner together as a family? The benefits of eating regular meals together are immeasurable. Do we eat meals together to remember times of old, or to set practices to keep the family together in the future?
There are some rituals that don’t seem like rituals at all. Going to your parents for dinner on a Sunday. Watching a game of football every Friday night with friends. Regular church attendance. Some rituals aren’t that exciting, some actually do seem boring and mundane. Some argue that rituals have no use – that we should be free to do what we want, when we want with scant regard to culture, religion or society.
I’d argue that a healthy ritual (and that does not always mean exciting or fun), keeps an individual strong. A strong individual will have strong relationships – strong individuals have strong family and friendship networks. He feels connected, depended upon and supported. He is a contributor for his family, a good employee or boss. Strong families mean a strong community. A strong community means it’s members contribute, understand their role and their place. A strong community keeps a country strong. Strength comes with strong rituals, from the ground up and the top down.
If rituals are the machinery that builds up, intimacy is the oil that keeps the parts moving.
Most defiantly, some rituals do feel clunky and dry. Rituals however build a framework. A framework that protects when many other things fall down. There is a security in a ritual. Something to turn to, to keep you going when everything seems to be falling apart.
What brings a ritual to life? It’s the people. The connections. The ritual is the framework. The structure. The people fill up the structure and bring it to life. The structure supports the intimacy.
I think of my family ritual of reading Bible scriptures at dinner. The ritual is the reading, the intimacy is the children choosing the story, of learning about what the Lord has done.
I think of the ritual of shaving. The ritual is a boy taking pride in his appearance. The intimacy is his father teaching him the ways of a razor.
I think of the ritual of having a coffee in the morning. The intimacy is me being able to talk to my family again after I’ve enjoyed my daily brew!
Intimacy does not have to be structured. Some of the most special times anyone can have are the unstructured times, the times that catch you by surprise. I was packing some boxes the other day when I came across a harmonica that belonged to my late Grandfather. My children were amazed at this palm-shaped musical instrument that played a strange tune. In that short time, I was able to share with my children about their great-grandfather. An everyday moment, turned special.
You can’t have stability just with intimacy. If you chase pure intimacy, at the risk of neglecting ritual, you’ll end up chasing a fleeting feeling. This is true in families, in marriages, in work, in study, on the sports field, in your faith. Feelings come and go. Many times, it’s the ritual, the practice that will keep you going. Can you imagine a sports team who chases the winning feeling, instead of practicing the rituals of fitness, teamwork and discipline? The team will surely fall apart. Can you imagine a marriage where the partners chase a feeling of closeness, rather than practice the rituals of giving, patience and gratitude? Surely the marriage will be lost in a sea of instability.
Rituals aren’t the most sexy thing to talk about. Some are doggone boring. Find healthy rituals to engage in – for yourself, your family, your faith, your relationships. Doing will often bring about ‘feeling’. When you’re doing, enjoy the closeness that comes from doing it together. The laughs that come from ‘doing’ ritual wrong. The closeness of doing something together. The strength that comes from the ritual and the closeness you find when engaging those you love in them will surely help when times of trouble come.
Picture lifted from: http://www.helenahistory.org/frontier_town.htm