Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Descent toward the Ritual

I've discovered recently that I am given to quirky little rituals.  They are harmless repeated patterns that exhibit themselves in sometimes helpful, sometimes silly ways.  I'm not compelled to do them, this is not OCD.  It is more like a subconscious formalization of my behavior.  I can't close a locked door without checking for my keys for example.  In that sense it is an adaptation that I've developed because of being burned once or twice by actually locking my keys in places.

But recently I became directly aware of the progression toward one particular ritual.  I was playing Solitaire on my PDA (I'm old tech., I know, but smart phones are lame; that's another story) and I realized that I could cheat by moving a card to a blank column even if it wasn't a king. It was a bug in the program that I could exploit. I did this and eventually beat my high score.  It was great, but after a while I felt like a cheater. I felt like my high score was a lie. It really was the tell tale heart. Well, after a great deal of internal struggle (over Solitaire nonetheless), I cleared my scores and started afresh, this time with the intent not to cheat.  But it didn't remain just an intent.  I got to the point where I would resist cheating even when I knew for instance that I could win without cheating but doing so would save time.  It had become a ritual.   It was a behavior that I developed so that I could feel good about my high scores.

I've wondered since if this is how some religious rituals start.  We get caught up with our holiness high scores and so we develop formalized behaviors, we develop rituals.

Communion started with a group of thirteen brothers in a dimly lit upper room huddled close to keep warm.  Now we deliver the communion in gold-colored trays in perfectly portioned crackers and grape juice with our eyes closed and our heads bowed.  It is a ritual.  Now I'm not criticizing our contemporary church practices.  Rituals aren't inherently bad.  My Solitaire ritual does insure beyond any doubt that I deserve that high score.  I am just warning against loosing the point of a thing when it becomes a ritual.  The point, I believe, of communion is to gather together with our Lord and enjoy the company.  It is about shedding conflicts and differences that might be between He and us and each other and asking forgiveness. It is about huddling together in a very, very cold world.  Communion is about community.

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