Ritual. There. I Said It.

We’re scared to death of it.

Not so much in daily life. Every time I see Rob, we go through a very predictable, public ritual. We shake hands, look each other in the eye, smile, and say something like, “Hey buttface.” (Seriously, we really say, “Hey, what’s going on, buttface?”) When I sit down at dinner with my family, first I give the mini-lecture about etiquette and manners, then we pray, then I say “Pass the potatoes,” and then I say, “So what went on in the 2nd grade today?” My children know it’s coming, yet every time, there’s no groan of, “Not this again.” Instead, it’s who gets to go first tonight? The ceremony is like a well-worn pair of socks. It’s comfortable. And it’s structure as well. So imagine that pair of socks holding up a bridge or something.

Seriously, ritual is the air we breathe as we engage in public life. Yet when it comes to the Christian faith and to corporate worship, we blanch at the mere mention of the word. “Ceremony! Ritual! That’s a return to Old Testament shadows! That’s a return to [cue the dire music] Rome!” Spontaneity, authenticity, informality, and rationality are the name of the game.

But ritual is a significant element in the Christian faith in general and in Christian worship in particular. In God’s economy ritual does something. What can ritual do?

Douglas Wilson over at Blog and Mablog makes some very cogent and insightful comments about the place of ritual in the faith, in worship, and in our lives.

Peter Leithart adds this quote to the chorus:

David Martin comments (TLS, June 16) on Maurice’s Bloch’s view that ritual crushes human creativity: “No doubt that is how the Jesuits (with their Spiritual Exercises) turned into such scientifically incurious stay-at-homes, how the Mormons built a city in the desert, and the Muslims created an empire stretching from Spain to the Euphrates.” (plundered from his archives)



2 responses to “Ritual. There. I Said It.

  1. David, you say that every stinkin’ day!

    Seriously…that Wilson piece is very good. And I agree with you. (Of course, as we’ve discussed, when it descends into ritualism a problem occurs.)

    By the way, my favorite line in the Wilson piece was, “One moment you have a bachelor, the next moment, after the ritual, you have a husband. Before the ritual he is morally obligated to keep his hands to himself. After the ritual he is morally obligated not to.” Funny, Wilson.

  2. I’m reading through Leviticus, there has to be a tie in here. All I can visualize in the first 16 chapters is blood, blood, blood and more blood. Do you know how big a bull is? and they’re MEAN! I am struggling with the ‘ritual’ of it all (I can’t post anything like this on ‘our’ blog because Rob’s too busy posting/replying to this one [s]). I do see the redemption through blood and in the Atonement I see much reflection to Christ, and something of a fore-shadowing for baptism – the unclean must all wash themselves and clothes in water. But what I can’t get around is the ritual of it all – there’s something in my head about even after all the blood we’re still ‘unclean’ and that it’s mostly to remind the Israelites of their pre-disposition to sin…. (help)

    anyway – David you do make a good point that we are very ritualistic in our daily routines and how quickly we are repulsed by it in Church.

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