According to the dictionary, the word “ritual” is defined as, “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” BORING! My definition would be “any action or attitude that helps us to connect with the Divine and with each other.” How does that grab you?
Rituals are as important as the air we breathe, especially those we define as spiritual ones. When I was a teenager, I spent some time in the Assembly of God which is a charismatic Christian denomination. Those who attended worship there prided themselves as having “no rituals” unlike those “other churches who have robes and printed prayers.” But I assure you, I could tell you exactly what was coming next in any given worship service. Like it or not, we are all creatures of habit. We all find power in rituals, whether we admit we use them or not.
The challenge with rituals, however, is that when a particular ritual works for someone, they assume it works for everyone. It’s at this point that the wicked weed of “ritual snobbery” begins to grow in our hearts. This happens in both Pagan and Christian spiritual paths. Suddenly, there is only one way to set up an ancestor altar, celebrate communion, pray. etc. Rituals then become a battleground rather than the spiritual blessing they’re intended to be.
If we can lay down our athames and processional crosses for a moment, we might find rituals in each other’s traditions that will enhance ours. For example, the first time a Cherokee friend of mine introduced the Prayer to the Four Directions in a worship service I attended, I instantly fell in love with it. The prayer included bold visual images for nature that were associated with the colors of white (north), yellow (east), red (south), and black (west). As each direction and color were invoked, we faced in that direction. have used this ritual many times in progressive Christian churches and it’s been received very well. This particular prayer is similar to one in the Wiccan tradition that invokes the spirits of the north (earth), east (air), south (fire), and west (water).
Instead of thinking of it as “stealing,” perhaps we can think of it as “borrowing,” with a heart full of gratitude to those who were inspired to create a specific ritual action in the first place. Rituals should never be rigid. They’re supposed to be creative and powerful. If a particular ritual helps you to connect with the Sacred and feel closer to your gathered community, then it’s the perfect ritual for you. But don’t spoil the ritual party by looking down at someone else’s ritual that has equal power for them.
Copyright ©2012 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com