Monday, June 22, 2015

On Ritual (date unknown)

  Have you ever watched people? My friend Ron calls himself a "people watcher", and as a psychologist/counselor he is pretty good at it. He will go to the mall, or perhaps some type of gathering . . . and watch!
  Ron is all the time talking about how repetitive the behaviors of humans are. And whether it is a tantrum or a smile the given person favors, they keep at it; and repeat the action. People do the same kinds of things over and over again, have you noticed? For instance, I am constantly losing or misplacing things. In serial fashion; I execute flawlessly the placing of a tool, or a piece of paper, so to three minutes later; have to "find". The routine manner of our personal rituals can drive a person crazy (why do I keep doing that?), and yet the repetitive is by in large what our lives are made of.
  Now, people will tell you that they personally hate ritual, but that is simply untrue. What we humans hate is "empty" ritual. Our usual goof of equating ritual to pointless actions, and to thereby denounce ritual itself is just lazy thinking. The fact that we are able to detect the fine nuance of ritual itself, so to correctly identify a poorly executed one, or one which has over time become meaningless; points out not a hatred of repetitive structured behavior, but an expertise in it!
  For us to be able to detect the shallow and rote, to grasp the perfunctory and disinterested actions of others is much more along the lines of a wine connoisseur's ability to sniff a slight variance in bouquet. His super sensitive nose and palate do not mean that he hates wine, it means he hates bad wine! And when it comes to ritual, we are like that also.
  Now, some might make the observation that the previous paragraphs are pure rubbish. That person might strongly dislike attending stylized, ceremonial public events. Baptisms, weddings, inaugerations and such like stuff might be a source of crashing boredom. So what? And the what is that they believe (wrongly) that they thereby dislike ritual. Such "official ritual" is but the tip of the iceberg!
   Ron will tell you, our lives are flooded with a repetitive and serial repeat feature. We cannot "hate ritual", for nearly all we do is ritual! Our lives are swamped, soaked and steeped in these patterns of over and over again, for years and then decades. We err, if we come to think that our personal and private rituals (since not public and staged) are not ritual.
  Think of an action, I don't care which, and "behind" it, lay ritual! Just ask people, they will insist that there is a "right way" to brush teeth. One lady I know seriously believes that there is a "proper way" to load toilet paper on the wall mount (it comes over the top). Try sometime eating a banana with a spoon in front of people, and observe their reactions, you are not doing it "the right way"!
  When somebody cuts you off on the interstate, what rises up in you? "What an idiot! Where did this moron learn to drive?!" In his breaking of driving convention, he is violating ritual, and we the experts can tell in a moments' time, he is doing it wrong! The ritual behavior of practicing the rules of the road, are normal, wholesome and sane, to break it is weird, dangerous and stupidly crazy. The ritual and meaning are not the same thing, more like neighbors.
  Our meaning is linked to serial actions. It need not be healthy or wise, it can be ritual alienation, or depression. Ritual violence and ritual sadness (and worse) can lend meaning for us. We keep doing the same kind of things, over and over, we believe in ritual.
  In my opinion, there is no good method to estimate just how much of our daily lives are ritual, but my guess is 90% minimum. You see, there is no "spontaneous" platform to stand upon, outside of ritual, to look backward from, so to examine the thing by.
  So, if meaning is the load, ritual is the wheelbarrow we carry it in. One person brags; "I work out five times a week!". Why? That one believes in strength, it gives her meaning. Another says; "I'm a vegan!". Ritually then, barbells and celery stalks are to make life better. We love to compare and contrast rituals between us, much as I traded marbles or baseball cards when a boy. We are looking to build an ideal set of marbles and ritual. Oh sure, we "correct" those with bad or destructive repetitions, because we are (if you'd like to know) quite knowledgeable about such things. So there is an inside and an outside to ritual.
  Inside the ritual, there is "nothing wrong with it", but viewed from the outside, it clearly needs to come to a halt! As a kind of rule of thumb then, ritual itself makes no distinction, as to whether ritual is desirable. It only "attaches". Exercising five or ten times a week is as valid as shooting up, as viewed from within ritual, and people know this, so they are constantly busy with the meta- ritual of correcting your bad habits.
  I don't much care for Freud, Jung or Adler. The psyche and why it chooses to defeat or frustrate its' own best interests seems normal enough to me. And all this "depth work", and years long counseling sessions are trying to assert that people's real words are not what they really mean, and that we need "to get to the root causes"? What a snoozer. 
  Heck, fights are about important stuff! The dishes were not washed and then dried and stacked properly! Now you're pushing buttons, them is fighting words! It is the "little things" that matter, and not because we are "small minded". It is because ritual is so humanly central, so dreadfully significant! Meaning itself is at stake. Those blockheads in Washington could not balance a girl scout troop budget, and an impending collapse of the economy . . . gets a yawn and the channel changed. But junior (once again!) "forgetting" to take out the trash? It is the stuff of high drama. 
  We ritually demean ourselves for having a poor sense of priorities just about here, but I see it differently. It is precisely the little things that matter most to us. This brings me to my final point.
  If the repetitive, the consistent, the dependable means anything, it means that we ourselves are fairly predictable. We ought to think about this occasionally.
  The 20th cen existentialists wearied their unfortunate pupils with their sad (and stupid) claim that life itself is inherently meaningless, and that actions per se are "absurd". They tried (very diligently!) to find that platform outside of ritual, so to view ritual by. These washed up ikons of cerebral horsepower were by in large ignored, and rightfully so. People know better than that.
  If anything, life is thronged, crowded, and jam-packed with meaning. You can't get away from it! The real challenge would be to correctly identify just one "meaningless" thing. It is a regular stampede of meaning down here. Admiring the daisy waving hello in the wind, watching the ladybug crawl up the stem, the sound of children's laughter, we are swamped in meaning! And from the inside, none of our rituals seem wrong to us. That is our problem here.
  Douglas Hofstater wrote once of a record player. The sound coming from the disc was entitled; "Music to smash record players by". The idea is great! The vibrations and squeaks which would cause screws and glues to come unfastened are being played over the speaker, and just that sound is what wrecks speakers! Well, I like the idea in any case.
  What we require is a ritual to break ritual by, a way to come out of our meaning, so to grasp the truer, better, faster and higher meaning. We need a way to shed ritual in order to grasp the real McCoy. We require a pattern to break patterns by. And to simply "hate ritual" and clamor for spontaneity and newness is itself the dullest of all rituals. Our syllogism; "Ritual gives meaning, and meaning is good, therefore ritual is good" is unbreakable from the inside.
  Perhaps this will help you see more clearly why I am a Calvinist? We are called alive, and things are spoken into being. Creation is the original miracle, and resurrection is like it, but moreso, so to speak. The call is out of death, and into life, and the living respond by trusting the Caller. That real McCoy, the higher faster meaning is along these lines.
  Ritual so completely defines meaning in our lives as humans, it is so overwhelmingly present; that it would require a super-natural ability, a strength from clean outside the world to overcome it. For us alone, there is no intracosmic solution, we are swamped unto death in ritual. But we are not alone. Ritual itself needs to die, but we unaided have not the strength to kill it, for all that we do only builds it. We are not unaided.
  So, if the Gospel preaches an alien righteousness, I am speaking of an alien ritual. The call is out of death, and then those living are called to lay down their lives. The apostle says: "I die daily". God is come to meddle in our ritual!
  Sanctification can never ever mean "getting my act together", or picking up new habits which are (somewhat) more wholesome. It is a glad acceptance of the loss of what we hold dearest, it is the loss of "meaning"!
  Friend, when you are pushing up daisies, nobody (including you) will give a rip about your fixation with toilet paper directionally rolling out. When you become Purina worm chow, not a soul on the planet will care if you dried dishes "correctly".
  The glory of Gospel is that we are being called into that freedom today! The living no longer "believe in" morals or politics or principles. They have entrusted all that meaningful freight to the Only One who could (or would for that matter) carry it safely. These many meanings of our lives we pass into His keeping, and have come to instead believe The One Meaning, He-Himself.
  We sought freedom from ritual, and tried to pretend that we did not care for it. That whining refusal only became our new ritual. There is no way out of this trap, unless we be carried in Another's arms right out of our world.
  Now, let's talk about the cross!

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