Rites and rituals just aren’t what they used to be.
I don’t mean they were all good, either – did I really want to be sent out as a hairdressing apprentice for “skyhooks” at the local ironmongers?*
The best of these bring meaning to the movement of our lives: childhood to adulthood, education to work, a new role, moving geographically, friends bonding, and more.
The value of a rite is in how it helps a person or a community to move from one state to another, empowering them to know exactly what is changing and how they’re doing.
The value of a ritual is in how it affords a person or group frequent, even daily, habits which make it possible to move in their chosen, desired direction, allowing them to reflect, evaluate, and correct their thinking, relating, and behaving.
What this means is, we can create better rites and rituals which make it possible to bring movement and meaning together so they flourish and thrive in a person and tribe, enabling people to bring their heads, hearts, and wills together, to become a force of nature.
Rites and rituals may sound as though they’re about attachment to the past, but a closer look reveals the best are about alignment or realignment to the future.**
I have loved the following words from the moment I first read them. The context is a student speaking to their tutor:^
“But do not try to bring them to where you are, either, as beautiful as that place might be to you. Rather, invite them to go to a place neither you nor they have ever been before.’^^
(*The ironmonger asked me to wait whilst he looked for some, and even though I knew I was being had, I had to go through with it. Another rite of passage I heard of was for metalworkers. As part of an initiation rite, apprentices would be told to pick up a block of lead. When they did realised it was aluminium, it was too late!)
(**This is the real sense intended by the term “repent”: realign to your future Self.)
(^The tutor was a Roman Catholic missionary frustrated with how the church’s approach to the Masai people wasn’t working. I believe the words hold true, though, for anyone regardless of their worldview.)
(^^Vincent Donovan, quoted in Brian McLaren’s Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?)