Flip the Ritual switch


Rod Dreher recently published some thoughts on ritual that reminded me of a passage from Jaroslav Pelikan, a passage I’ve used on this blog before: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

With Pelikan’s words in mind, here’s what Dreher said about ritual:

Rituals can be deadening, but the absence of rituals can also be deadening. A ritual only works to order the soul and instruct the conscience if you do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. It teaches you that there is something more important than your individual desire at that given moment.

That’s from “5 old-timey rituals that should make a comeback,” which appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Real Simple magazine. Dreher’s ritual? “Dinner at six.” With the entire family.

Consider for a sec that these passages from Pelikan and Dreher could be applicable in a number of areas of life, including habit formation and learning.

With this topic at hand, I should include, like the Pelikan quotation, another repeat from a previous post, this one by C.S. Lewis:

A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.

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