There’s a joke in the Catholic ministry community that goes like this: “What is the difference between a liturgist (the person who plans the details of the Mass) and a terrorist?” The answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.”
In our liturgical tradition (and others), we love all the details of color, gesture, music and more. And we stick to them, by gum. No freelancing! Right now, if you were to walk into any Catholic sanctuary, it would be decorated with the color green. No doubt Packer’s aficionados find this particularly peaceful (but don’t worry Vikings fans: Lent will bring the color purple in a few weeks!).
Ritual is clearly a core part of being a human being. Everything from our national spectacles to the quiet moments of our domestic lives is touched by ritual. How do you memorialize the founding of the nation? Well, stunning displays of fireworks, of course.
Ritual can help order our lives. It can anchor us to a deeper sense of self and identity Research has shown that children that participate in group rituals develop a deeper sense of connection with their peers. Those of us who study liturgy learn a great deal about the power of our rituals and the details that make them up. Ritual, enacted by community, brings identity and connection to each other, and I believe, with God.
The religious rituals we cherish add a deeper valence because they are not only about community and identity but about the relationship of both to the divine. A baptism, a bris, a wedding or funeral celebrated in religious ritual invokes a deep connection not only to those who are present, but to all those who have gone before us in our faith tradition, and those who will follow us on the journey.
Parents and others who care for young children know the power of ritual in anchoring and providing a sense of safety, identity, and connection. First jammies. Then tooth brushing. Next a book of a reasonable length. “Okay, two. No, not three.” A hug, a kiss, often a prayer, and bedtime is complete. Try removing these sorts of rituals from kids, and bammo, chaos ensues!
In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking out our public rituals, particular those surrounding sports. For me, going to a Twins or Vikings game is almost liturgical. There are ritual songs that we sing. We stand and sit at designated moments, and no one instructing us on the timing. We wear our ritual colors religiously. And the ritual food! I’m sorry. In my family, it’s not a game unless there is a brat involved.
This week we’ll experience one of the great American public rituals, the Superbowl. Literally thousands of our friends and neighbors throughout the region will be suited up in their Northstar themed spirit wear extending a warm welcome to the out of towners who have come in for the big game. They will trot out a tuned up Minnesota nice (and fans from that city that sits between the Schuylkill and the Delaware: Take notes. It’s time to improve the “brotherly love!”).
The Superbowl will be followed by the Olympics. The Twins opener. And in the Twins opener. Soccer, baseball and track will commence at the High School and in our community leagues. Ah, the red and black that will surround us!
And in our houses of worship, we will continue to perform our ancient, powerful rituals. We will distribute ashes as we commence the season of Lent. We’ll break out our Purim costumes and get over to the Crossroads deli for the hamentaschen. We’ll begin the fast of the blessed month Ramadan and break it at Iftar dinners with our friends. The colors of the joyous Holi festival will remind us of love. The list goes on.
Embrace your rituals, whether they are or a . And if you are feeling a longing to expand your ritual expression, in community, with an eye toward the divine, know that our houses of worship are waiting for you – be they churches, mosques, synagogues or temples. Mine’s green, and I would just love to welcome you.