Thursday, 17 January 2013

Rituals - the good and bad. Can they be ugly too?

An interesting comment, from a local church newsletter, about rituals:
"Not that rituals always work. They go wrong when they become too empty or too full. In both cases they lose their connection with everyday life.
Empty ritual is when we end up just going through the motions: the gift-giving, carol singing, or whatever doesn't connect with how we really feel.
Overblown ritual is the opposite: the ritual becomes so important it becomes an escape from the life that surrounds it.
But at their best, rituals gather up the scattered meanings of our lives and return them to us with fresh clarity and purpose."

Of course, what's empty to one participant may well be meaningful and connected to the next person. Part of being human is that we sometimes do go through the motions, sometime for our own sake, sometimes for other peoples. The woman whose husband died in late December may well "do" Christmas the following year - but only for the sake of her children and the friends who cannot bear the thought of her not doing so. Likely enough the ritual will be empty for her then. But the joy will come back - eventually, most probably in a few years - if she can manage to stay in the habit of "doing Christmas".

And I'm not so sure that empty and overblown are opposites: ritual at its worst becomes both of these at the same time.

Interesting concepts, though, and helpful in terms of focussing on why we do what we do.

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