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Eugene Peterson on Ritual

Eugene Peterson on Ritual
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge / Unsplash
“The usefulness of a ritual is that it takes a human action that is understood as essential to our ordinary lives and removes it from the immediate “say-so,” protects it from our tinkering and editing and revisions, sets it apart from our moods and dispositions. There is more going on than I am aware of or can be responsible for. Reality is larger than me. A ritual puts me into the larger reality without requiring I understand it or even “feel” it at the moment… It keeps us in touch with and preserves mystery. For reality is not only larger than me and my immediate circumstances, it is also beyond my understanding. Rituals preserve that mystery, protect certain essential aspects of reality from being reduced to dimensions of my interest or intelligence or awareness.” -Eugene Peterson “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, page 205.

We often see rituals as a bad word or idea in our culture. Associated with religion, or something lacking heart and passion, etc. A way to lose the organic and spontaneous. Rituals are not life giving, and only stifle the ability for growth. But ritual, whether religious or otherwise, are built into the fabric of our lives and society, and are necessary, useful, and good:

1. Rituals are beneficial when our feelings don’t match. More is going on, more is happening, and it has nothing to do with how I feel.

2. Rituals help in creative work, and any kind of work. These rituals, habits, and practices put us into a position to make things, build stuff, and do our work regardless of circumstance, stamina, and again: feelings. Rituals help when passion and affections are waning.

3. Rituals keep things from centering primarily on us. Rituals push us beyond ourselves and become essential for the common good. Rituals keep us tethered to mystery.

4. Rituals require little knowledge, skill, or awareness. These ritual acts take the pressure off being God, or knowing what is going on with the participants, advanced degrees, or any particular competency. Rituals create pathways for participation on all levels.

5. Rituals create whole body memory. The rituals we put into our lives last after the experience. They teach our bodies, souls, minds, hearts, emotions, and wills long after we take part in the ritual, creating long term transformation.

Rituals are necessary, useful, and good. Rituals free us from the toxic anxiety of immediacy and our obsession with now-ness.

-RJP