Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Art of the Ritual

Does modern life ever feel excruciatingly flat to you? A bleak landscape devoid of layers, rhythm, interest, texture?

Are you ever haunted by the question “Is this all there is?”

Have you ever looked at an old photo and felt that the scene held such an inexplicable richness that it seemed you could practically step right into it?

The barren flatness of modern life is rooted in many things, including mindless consumerism, the absence of significant challenges, and the lack of shared values and norms, or even shared taboos to rebel against. But what is the solution?

Many would be quick to say faith, or philosophy, or relationships. All good answers.

But what is it that vivifies beliefs to the extent they can transform your perspective not simply for an hour on Sunday, but also in the mundane moments throughout your week? What can move an understanding of abstract truths from your mind into your very sinews? What can transform superficial ties with others into deep and meaningful bonds?

The answer I would suggest is ritual.

Our modern world is nearly devoid of rituals – at least in the way we traditionally think of them. Those that remain – such as ones that revolve around the holidays – have largely lost their transformative power and are often endured more than enjoyed, participated in as an obligatory going through of the motions. Ritual has today become associated with that which is rote, empty, meaningless.

Yet every culture, in every part of the world, in every era has engaged in rituals, suggesting they are a fundamental part of the human condition. Rituals have even been called our most basic form of technology – they are a mechanism that can change things, solve problems, perform certain functions, and accomplish tangible results. Necessity is the mother of invention, and rituals were born out of the clear-eyed perspective that life is inherently difficult and that unadulterated reality can paradoxically feel incredibly unreal. Rituals have for eons been the tools humans have used to release and express emotion, build their personal identity and the identity of their tribe, bring order to chaos, orient themselves in time and space, effect real transformations, and bring layers of meaning and texture to their lives. When rituals are stripped from our existence, and this fundamental human longing goes unsatisfied, restlessness, apathy, alienation, boredom, rootlessness, and anomie are the result.

Join next post as we dive into the historical meaning of a ritual.

Strength and Honor