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What is "Ritual"?

Ritual is a charged word, isn’t it? I know many people in my life who would likely cringe at it due to its common association with “witchcraft” or “eastern religious voodoo”. Ritual, however, is not so far removed from Christianity, it certainly has a home in Judaism, and is found in the Biblical scriptures, as well. In many cultures, ritual is often law. People from one culture will look at the ritual of another and think, “That law is dumb. I don’t need a law to tell me how to put my socks on.”

So why do Christians take communion or perform baptisms? Why, when they pray, do they hold their hands in a certain position? Why do Jews stand and rock back and forth when reciting blessings — blessings they recite at specific times of the day? Why does scripture prescribe specific offerings with specific purposes to be brought to the priests at the altar?

According to the internet’s definition, ritual is defined as:

“…ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order; a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence.”

I think this definition does explain it pretty well. Your morning routine of drinking coffee, for example, could be a ritual. Routine is ritual in many ways. One is intentionally spiritual, one is accidental. Both set the tone for whatever comes afterward or it sanctifies something that came before. They provide comfort in familiarity or the acknowledgement of something greater. Ritual is what makes a moment or a task a holistic experience. Ritual requires your body, your mind, and your spirit. Not just spirit. Not just mind. Not just body.

A Jew wakes up and recites a blessing of gratefulness (a specific one for the sake of solidarity, of unity). She gets up, washes her hands, and recites another blessing about how amazing the design of our bodies are, that if anything meant to be open is closed, or anything meant to be closed is opened, it would cause disaster for our ability to function. Etc. — A mundane task such as waking up and using the bathroom now suddenly has amazing spiritual reflection. Ritual, when done intentionally, addresses our whole self.

Imagine a daily ritual. Imagine how your day might be affected if you woke up every morning and the first thing you reflected on was gratefulness. If, every day at lunch, you had a ritual of blessing your meal. Or you performed a ritual when dressing for bed, during which you reflected on the things in life we are presented with and the lessons from which we can learn.

This is something I am working on, in my own world. Practicing established rituals that not only unify me with those in my adopted culture, but that also bring this powerful aspect of holistic living into my daily life.

What’s your ritual?

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