“The mind divides, categorizes, analyzes, and defines.
Our souls open, wonder, suffer, and love.”
~Gunilla Norris, Simple Ways: Towards the Sacred, p. 133
I am reverent when participating in communion, watching a baptism, or engaging in other rituals or rites. Weddings and funerals take me out of my cognitive self and place me in an other-world experience, into the sacred. I have brought in the east, the west, the north, and the south in a pagan ritual, surrounded by wiccans. I have gone deep down during a weekend retreat in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico to find my animal in shamanistic ceremony. I remember those days back in the New Mexico forest as hot, with drums, and when I emerged I had not one, but two animals. A black panther and a bear. I felt so connected. Until I realized that not long before I had read The Jungle Book. I laughed at myself when I realized I must have been channeling Baloo and Bagheera. Ah well, we try. We try.
Ritual is one way to link the mind with the soul, words with action,
experience with reflection, emptiness with fullness.
Ritual is somehow a conduit for me to a higher or lower experience, it takes me somewhere I can’t take myself on my own. I don’t know if it is a higher power but it is a larger something. Bishop Spong has pointed out that “higher” and “lower” have little or no significance in today’s world when talking about heaven, hell, or God. Before, we knew that the earth was just a piece of the universe. Before, we knew the earth was round and that “up” meant a completely different direction depending upon what part of the earth one stood, and the ideas of higher and lower were powerful. Now, Spong says, these directions have lost their relevance. God, he says, is everywhere, up, down, inside, and all around. I understand this intellectually, but when I pray I still seem to pray up and up and up toward that which I cannot perceive.
Perhaps it is when I meditate, part of my morning ritual, not praying at all but just breathing, that I am the most open to, available for, and the closest to whatever might be considered the divine or sacred in all things, and closest to experiencing the interconnectedness of it all. And yet, still, plenty far away.
Ritual, of course, is but one way to connect to something greater than ourselves. Reverence is often shown by an ode or a prayer or an act, say that simple kiss placed on my mother’s cheek as she lay in her casket, of respect. A simple, physical act will do, as when people stood as Atticus left the courtroom:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father’s passin’.” Reverend Sykes, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, page 211.
Perhaps standing for another represents extreme respect, perhaps reverence. Perhaps it is nothing more than going along with the crowd. It falls within the individual’s intent.
Just like either standing or taking a knee at a football game, or going down on your knees at your bed each night. Each person knows their own heart, observers can only interpret the behaviors and the hearts of others.
I wish I knew more about ritual. I have, as most of us do, daily rituals like brushing my teeth. I also know that some rituals over the centuries have been harmful. Still, ritual is one way, among others, to move outside of mere thinking – which can divide, categorize, is often limited to words – and to soulfully stretch and to transcend and to connect.
But sometimes though I don’t need ritual at all to do that. Just a walk outside.
“If you wish to know the divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.” From the Buddha, found in Earth’s Echo: Sacred Encounters with Nature, Robert Hamma, p. 16)
Hamma, R. M. (2002). Earth’s echo: sacred encounters with nature. Notre Dame, IN, Sorin Books.
Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Herald Press, 1945.
Norris, G. (2008). Simple ways: towards the sacred. New York, BlueBridge.
Spong, J. S. (1998). Why Christianity must change or die: a bishop speaks to believers in exile: a new reformation of the Church’s faith and practice (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSan Francisco.