I was brushing my hair in front of the mirror when it hit me; this is a ritual that I do every day at a certain time. I get up, take a shower, brush my teeth and then brush my hair. It is just the way I do things, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who does it this way in the morning.
Isn’t it odd how the idea of ritual is often tied so closely to religion? We can speak of the rituals that occur repeatedly when we enter a ceremony. There’s always a certain way of doing things, a certain order and certain roles.
Why is it important to think about these rituals from time to time?
As a habit, we are often in a rush in the morning, so we do certain things for efficiency. We do things in order because re-inventing something on the spot could be dangerous for our time, for our mindset and, especially, our mood. When we do things in a routine way, we seem to be more in control over our tasks and thoughts. A friend of mine once asked himself how he could have forgotten his glasses, and after some thought, he jokingly said: “I didn’t have my morning coffee.” For most of us, this is what missing out on rituals could mean.
This is similar to religious rituals; they are stable, routine, seldom new. They sometimes lack very much thought. We know when to stand, when to respond to certain things, and we can predict quite easily what will come next. This stability is foundational to rituals; routine doesn’t promote an unreasonable amount of creativity on the spot because inventions could set off the wrong mood or dangerously suggest to people an intention quiet different or skewed from the original intention of the set ritual. What is worse is that even the tiniest change on the words set and locked to the ritual can make the entire ritual invalid. How so? A small example would make this very clear for us Catholics: imagine a priest wanted to mix things up a bit and say during the consecration: “This is Jesus’ body” rather than the original “This is my body.” The first makes the real and true presence questionable because the priest at that moment stepped out of his role of allowing Jesus to speak saying “This is my body” and instead the priest became a commentator who is merely indicating that this is Jesus’ body.
When it comes to rituals, even the smallest change can dangerously make us blind like my friend who forgot his glasses; and worse, in religious rituals, the tiniest change can lose the entire ritual.
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