Who Needs Ritual? Uh, me!

There is a blue and white NASA sip-top cup in my cupboard.  Every time I see this cup it reminds me of when my son was very little.  Every night after dinner, my husband or I would fill that cup with milk (okay, it was rice milk… but I didn’t want to be that LA mom who was watching his dairy… milk sounds much more “normal”) and take my son upstairs to start his bedtime ritual:  Bath, pajamas, sipping the milk while we read three stories, brushing teeth, one more story, then music on and lights off.

Parents of young children are always very concerned with night-time rituals because we want to get the kids off to sleep and have a minute to ourselves.  We are hoping the ritual aspect, the things we do outside of ourselves, will provide the impetus needed for an internal change… in this case, sleepiness.  However, we adults, often overlook the fact that we need rituals too. How many of us follow the recommendations ourselves for a good night’s sleep?  Things like… decluttering our bedrooms or turning off electronics a couple of hours before bedtime?  We need rituals too to cue our inner changes and be as healthy as we can be.

Religion is very much based in ritual.  Sometimes we realize that those rituals are there to inspire an inner change.  Sometimes we just do them because we are “supposed” to or because it “feels weird not to.”  But truly, our spiritual rituals are there to do exactly what the night-time ritual did for my son.  They are external actions intended to start an internal change… an inner journey, an inner acceptance, an inner realization.

Take the Passover seder, for example, which many of us will be taking part in during the coming week.  This tradition is chock full of ritual.  We eat and read and sing in a specific order to affect personal change. We eat matzah to remind us of the hardships that many used to feel, still feel, and will feel in the future, and to remind us that sometimes we have to act right away even when we don’t feel quite ready.  We eat fresh vegetables and eggs in honor of spring and rebirth and the fragility of all life.  We eat horseradish to snap ourselves out of our normal states and awaken ourselves to the pain of a life enslaved.  We pour wine onto our plates to remind us that we should never fully celebrate our good fortune when someone else was harmed for us to have it.  All of that is part of the seder to lead us to gratitude and acceptance of the here and now and inspire us to be the change the world needs.  And that’s just the beginning.  There is so much more.

Now… we can all sit through a seder and eat and read and listen and only allow the experience to live on the surface, but doing the ritual isn’t the point of the ritual.  Each action and story is there to point us in the direction of truly being the people we would like to think we are.  I mean, how often do we really stop and ask what life would be like if we weren’t free to make our own choices and then remember to immerse ourselves in thanks?  How often do we admit that sometimes we feel like we aren’t free to make our own choices?  Do we try to either have more autonomy or accept that those choices really were ours (see my last blog on that!)?  How many of us know what it feels like to be enslaved by something other than true slavery, such as our work or our worries or our egos, but are afraid to admit it or do anything about it?  How often do we complain and kvetch about the little things, but deep down we know that one tiny tragedy would turn all of that upside down and inside out?  Do we remember to be in gratitude for a tragedy-free day?  The seder is here to help us connect and re-connect to all of that.  But we have to invite the experience in.  We have to be active participants in taking in the words and songs and tastes and smells, and moving them beyond the surface into our souls.

Whether you are Jewish or not, plan to be at a seder this year or not, consider the importance of ritual in your life.  We don’t need them.  But sometimes the candles burning on a Shabbat table, the wafer on the tongue in a church,  the sound of the call to worship in a mosque is exactly what we need to remember to be the change.

Join us for our ritual Saturday, April 23.  Today is the last day to sign up for our Cool Shul seder.  Click here:

http://coolshul.brownpapertickets.com

seder plate image

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