Thursday, February 4, 2016

Finding Ritual

One of the more comforting aspects of organized religion, at least for me, is the sense of ritual that comes ready-made for the worshipper. Several friends who worship in different traditions have been talking about their late-winter rituals. One of them made candles for Imbolc. Another anticipates Ash Wednesday with a funny bit about the different kinds of crosses people might find on their foreheads. (True story: The Spousal Unit comes from a solidly Utah-Mormon background, and grew up in the secular wilds of California. So when we moved to the Buffalo area, which has a large Catholic population, he was a bit mystified by some of the traditions. One winter day he came home from work and said, "A bunch of people left work and came back with smudges on their foreheads. I didn't know if I was supposed to notice or not." I gently explained Ash Wednesday to him.)

Anyway, all this has me thinking about the importance of ritual, both for uniting a community and for giving the individual markers for growth and change. Given the things I've experienced, there are parts of my old life that no longer move my heart--it's like finding that the pair of comfortable shoes that took you many wonderful places has worn out, the sides splitting or the tread scraped away. You don't want to lose the good parts--sometimes you can replace the sole (See what I did there? HA!) or glue the loose bits. And sometimes, you have the chance to pick something new that fits right, that doesn't rub blisters on your heel or push your toes out of place and give you bunions. Still, the need for ritual continues. I think for many of us it's a deeply human need, whether in small acts or the overarching patterns of life.

Certainly for writers like myself, and many artists of different stripes, ritual can be a key element in developing the work. Whether it's having a favorite kind of pen or tool, or acts that get the creative brain going, it can be hard to work without them. (It's said Victor Hugo wrote naked. Another writer dressed in a business suit every day before going to his home office. I like to start with journal writing, which seems as though it has a lot less potential for embarrassment if anyone drops in.)

Spiritual rituals go deeper, a kind of sanctification or devotion. We use rituals to step out of the noisy space of daily life, to put ourselves in a mindset that enables us to think beyond the immediate. It's a necessity for anyone who needs that quiet, and I don't think it's limited solely to religious acts. But there is a religiosity about it, in the best sense.

So how do you go about renewing the ritual aspects of life, when you've stepped away from the tradition in which you've spent most of your life? That's the question I've been asking myself lately. It's one of those things that, as time eases the ache of what I've lost, kindles a new excitement. The possibilities are endless. All I have to do is find where my heart fits, the words and acts and patterns and rhythms that heal me.

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