I had hoped to write a bit more over the Christmas break. Time is precious these days. Trying to blog once a month is probably more realistic.
School is in full swing. I am taking Spirituality & Worship, Liturgy, and Prayer, Contemporary Spirituality, Psychology & Spirituality, auditing Christian Anthropology, and learning Koine Greek. Beth and I have also been busy writing new GROUNDED material every month. If you haven’t visited for a bit, you should check out the website at www.GetGROUNDEDForLife.com. The site is a complete redesign and we are generating monthly content for Youth & Family Ministries.
SO, the Pocta family is in transition.
I wanted to share briefly about the importance of ritual. For some, the word ritual carries a negative. This is primarily true for my Protestant, Evangelical, and International Church of Christ friends. In these circles, ritual often gets associated with unhealthy traditions.
It can be defined:
ritual – a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.”
Ritual is a neutral word, inherently not positive or negative. Rituals create space for important practice. Rituals are repetitive, which threatens the authenticity of such practice but does not negate its power. The solution to heartless ritual is not ridding ourselves of it, but rightly engaging in it’s practice.
For example, I have a ritual of brushing my teeth every morning and evening before I go to bed. We would all likely agree that this ritual has value. I have a ritual of reading my Bible and praying every morning to start my day, a ritual of going to bed at the same time as my wife every night, and a ritual of paying my credit card off every day. You don’t have to agree, disagree, or imitate my rituals, they are mine. Ritual does serves an important purpose in our lives. It helps us to build fruitful discipline, healthy routine, and authentic practice. Let’s unpack authentic practice.
Authentic practice requires engagement; heart, strength, mind, and soul. Without wholehearted engagement, ritual can easily become empty. To experience authentic engagement the partaker needs to mentally engage the ritual. What does the ritual symbolize? What emotion is it intended to solicit? How does this ritual feed the soul? Authentic practice creates awareness of what the ritual is intended to mean and do. It is intended to slow people down to cherish and savor what it represents.
Let’s take an example from a conviction I gained last night.
At our midweek service, our minister, Mike Taliaferro, taught a lesson about ownership, particularly ownership of money. He shared scriptures instructing that everything comes from God. When we give, we acknowledge that God is the owner of all that we have and the source of our wealth. I have always personally used Leviticus 27:30 to guide my thinking about giving.
Leviticus 27:30 (NIV) A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.
I know, I know . . . many people believe that tithing (giving a tenth) was a practice for the Israelites and is no longer binding today. As I stated above, you don’t have to agree, disagree, or imitate my rituals. Follow me and see where I am going with this.
Knowing what our monthly income was, I generated a monthly electronic payment to the church. It was set up to repeat every month unless I interferred. My rationale explained this practice as healthy. It was God’s money. The tithe belonged to him. I never was tempted to spend it on something else because it would automatically be given.
But last night made me aware of something that was missing in my practice. When we broke up into our small groups to discuss the lesson, a friend of mine, Sunil, shared the importance of physically writing a check every week and choosing to give it to God. For a couple years, his family was supported by selling real estate. Their income came sporadically, in the form of commission checks on home sales. They could have easily written one check and given it every time they received a commission rather than spreading it out, but Sunil believed it was important for his heart to write a weekly check and give it during the worship service.
His practice really struck me! There was an important ritual that I was depriving myself of. That ritual was coming to worship God with something in my hand to give. I am reminded of God’s instruction to the Israelites when he was teaching them to engage in three ritual feasts, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Tabernacles in Deuteronomy 16:16. He states, “No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed.”
Our conversation last night helped me to rethink the value of ritual in this worship practice of contributing to God’s work. I want to come to worship with something in my hand for God’s people. I want to think about the act of physically placing that money in the basket. I want to experience the weekly reminder that everything I have comes from Yahweh. I need that reminder. I need that ritual. It benefits my spirituality.
The primary purpose of this article is not giving, it is ritual. Giving serves as example. We could unpack, at great length, the ritual of the Passover. The Exodus event was one of the pinnacle moments in our spiritual history. God commanded a ritual be performed every year to engage and remind Israel of his sovereignty and power. The practice of this ritual was intended to clean up gratitude that might have gotten dusty and reminded God’s people of the nature of their covenant relationship with him.
We could certainly talk at length about the ritual of the Lord’s Supper every week. Some call it communion, some call it the Eucharist (εὐχαριστία or eucharistia was Greek, meaning “thanksgiving”). It is a ritual that Jesus commanded Christians to practice and is universally celebrated across Christian churches. This ritual has deep and significant meaning. It represents the death of the son of God. It connects us to the lamb of God (notice the imagery of the Passover) who takes away the sin of the world. And when we celebrate this ritual, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes in his glory! Authentic practice engages the thoughts, emotions, and memories of the Christian. It reminds us of our baptism and the forgiveness of our sins that was secured on the cross. It dusts off our gratitude and reminds us of our covenant relationship with Yahweh.
Ritual empowers and revives significance for those whom authentically practice it. There are clear rituals that God commands and other rituals that are healthy for our spirituality. Take some time to evaluate ritual in your life. Are you authentically practicing the rituals that you have? Are there other rituals that you need to begin?
Let us embrace the value of ritual and understand its role in our spirituality!