The 21st century does not afford many opportunities for quiet reflection. It’s hard to remember what life was like before smartphones. There are endless sources of diversion that we can access anywhere with the push of a button. The march of technological and scientific progress has left many with the feeling that the old religious traditions are rather pointless. We have lost the chance to take part in rituals. Religious ceremonies of all kinds provide for the health of the psyche and create a sense of well-being. They let us slow down, be serious, take stock of our lives, be in the moment while feeling a sense of community, and connect with our spiritual side. We move from the ordinary, mundane, and routine to a sense of awe.
Some people hear the word ritual and automatically think cult. This is because cults do use the inherent power of the ritual to bind members together, making them feel a sense of solidarity and purpose. The ritualistic aspect of every religion, cult or otherwise, helps people access powerful feelings of community and spirituality. Adherents equate these feelings with the religious institutions to which they belong.
This is an error in thinking and misses the similarity of all rituals across all religious traditions. In many religions you feel it necessary to rely on a third party in the form of a priest or dogma, believing a universal aspect of humanity can only be accessed through a narrow channel and with someone else’s help. You are tricked into feeling you must go through a gatekeeper to have a religious experience.
Here is the key point. Whether you create your own ritual with your partner, family, or community or take part in a traditional ritual you will probably experience similar feelings because of the nature of the rite itself. It slows you down, helps you take time to be reflective and serious, let’s you live fully in the moment, and gets you in touch with your spiritual side. People across all times and cultures have always assigned causation to the ritualistic aspect of religion where there was really just correlation. In other words, it’s not that any one rite comes from a higher source of truth, but that all rites share common elements that are important for the human psyche.
You can decide to create and perform a ritual with your partner, family, friends, or community where you all take part in deciding what it’s for and what its specific elements will be. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that you don’t have the right or the ability to do this.
There is a ritual I took part in recently that was rewarding and seems appropriate in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Feel free to use it as it is, modify it in any way you see fit, or create something entirely different. In our ritual we blessed our home and the people who live within it. I wrote up a quick benediction that we read out loud at the start of the ceremony. You can write your own with your family members and say it together. Let anyone who desires speak about their hopes for the present and future in your family community.
Once we had said the benediction, we lit incense and walked around the inside of the house three times, quietly and purposefully moving from room to room and staying with our thoughts in the moment. We visualized a quiet, meditative space of peace, happiness, and safety.
After the ritual is over you can sit down together and discuss what it was like for each of you and how it made you feel. There are no wrong answers. Rituals have the power to bind us together and make us feel a sense of purpose in life, while letting us take the time to slow down and appreciate the miracle of life and relationships. You might be surprised by the feelings of solidarity you have with your family when you create your own ritual together instead of relying on preexisting traditions. Below I’ve added the benediction I wrote for the ceremony. It was fun writing a poem with flowery, epic language. You are free to use it if you like but you will probably feel more fulfilled by writing your own. The important point to consider is that you can access your spirituality without going through a middle man, and a ritual that is created and shared by the people you care about will feel meaningful and personal.
Lords of the earth, air, fire, and water
Kings and queens of the four fold land
Bless this home and make it peaceful
Make it safe, and forever stand
Ye ghosts be gone with ill intentions,
Ye who come in peace may stay
Join the chorus of happy song
As we journey on our merry way