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Turning Routines into Rituals

In Devotional, Worldview on May 21, 2016 at 8:16 pm

RitualsBoth routines and rituals involve a regular repetition of some action.

But they are very different.

Routines will flatten our lives, but rituals can thicken them.

Routines are like ordinary time and rituals are linked with “higher times.”

With a routine there is a clear, linear connection between the act and the purpose of the act. The routine of brushing your teeth is performed so that you have clean, healthy teeth. You routinely make a breakfast of oatmeal with flax and blueberries to prevent cancer or heart disease, I can’t remember which, maybe both. You grab a coffee on the way to work so that you can hit the ground running when you arrive. There is no more meaning in a routine than the desired outcome.

A ritual, on the other hand, does not have this clear relationship between the act and purpose. The purpose of a handshake, or fist bump or whatever it is the kids are doing these days, has nothing to do with the touching of hands. At a graduation, we don’t throw the hats in the air because we want them to be up there. In Holy Communion, we don’t eat the bread and drink the wine because we are hungry and thirsty.

The meaning and purpose of a ritual transcends the action itself.

In some Christian circles it is a given that we must avoid “mindless rituals.”  Notice that the basis of this censure is that it is non-rational. This preferment of the mind over all other aspects of the human being still dominates the Western church.  The thing about rituals is that they are fundamentally not about the mind–they are not supposed to be.  Does shaking hands when we greet someone make any rational sense?  Rituals train us in ways much deeper than the mind, deeper than the emotions even. They train and transform the deepest part of ourselves, precisely because we do them over and over again. And it’s not with our minds that we repeat rituals, but with our bodies.

James K. A. Smith says, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, that rituals aren’t just things we do, they are things that do something to us.  He says we’ve got it all wrong when we think that humans are primarily rational beings.  Yes, Descartes was wrong with his conclusion, “I think therefore I am.”  Rather, Smith says we are desiring beings–“I love therefore I am.”  Rituals get at the core of who we are, through out bodies.  If you say a rote prayer before the every evening meal, with folded hands and closed eyes, you are physically acknowledging a presence that deserves your reverence, a providential being to whom you ought to be grateful.  This simple ritual shapes identity, and it “thickens” experience in the world as it connects a person and his food to a transcendent provider–this “mindless” ritual is an incarnational event.  If this simple prayer is such a significant event, think about Communion.

We engage in functional, but empty routines all day long.  I wonder if we can’t elevate some of these to the level of ritual.  I’ve ritualized the routine of hitting snooze on my alarm clock.  Every morning when I wake up, well almost every morning, I say, “Good morning, Lord.”  This ritual reminds me that the day does not begin when I wake up; during the seven hours that I’ve been sleeping, God has been busy.  I am joining God’s day, “already in progress.”   It is a quotidian reminder and that the all-powerful king of the universe loves me because he’s there every morning to hear me say, “Good, morning Lord.”

I think I just leave the brushing of my teeth as a routine, but there are some interesting possibilities for ritualizing my morning coffee.

 

Poop Packages

In Rants on April 24, 2016 at 2:43 am

Dog Poop baggedAm I missing something, or are people complete idiots?

We have decided that we don’t want to have dog poop all over our community.  To this end we expect pet owners to bag the feces of their beloved canine, and dispose of it in a convenient garbage can.  If there is no readily available waste receptacle, we expect it to be packed home and disposed of it there.  Fine.

But not every seems to understand all aspects of this complex  procedure.

There seems to be a number of dog walkers who only understand the first step.  I go walking up my local trail almost everyday and regularly find, beside the sidewalks and trails, neatly packaged bags of dog poop protected from the elements in bright white or neon blue baggies.  If the stuff was just left beside the trail, the rain, sun and snails would erase it from memory.  But inside its protective case, this doggie dump can sit like a monument for months commemorating the site of this momentous movement of digested kibble for the devout pilgrims who pass it on the trail.

I suggest that this dog poop ritual is an all or nothing kind of thing.  Either go through the entire procedure and take the bag home with you, or don’t even start down the road of courtesy–just knock the stuff off the trail with a readily available stick and let nature take its course.

 

 

There’s Meaning in the Mug

In Worldview on April 9, 2016 at 11:50 pm

Coffee 1Do you choose to drink your morning coffee out of a Styrofoam cup?

To cure the feeling that are lives are in some ways “flattened” we need a dose of objective Reality.

We have this idea that meaning is in the mind–the individual mind. The logic being: It has to be, because it can’t be anywhere else. We start with this assumption and are forced to the conclusion. But what if the assumption is all wrong.

The Greeks used to think meaning was external–in creation–in the logos. Judeo-Christianity also taught that meaning was external–it’s source in the transcendent God. In the recent past, we made a couple of optional turns in our thinking and end up assuming that meaning lies within us as individuals–meaning, indeed reality, is subjective–this is subjectivism.

It’s as hard to disprove this foundational assumption as it is to prove it, but we can look at where this view takes us in the end, and perhaps draw some conclusions.

Do you choose to drink your morning coffee our of a Styrofoam cup?  I don’t know anyone who would. The coffee itself doesn’t taste any different, but the experience is, for some reason, inferior. It sucks to drink coffee out of Styrofoam. My grandfather, it is said, refused to drink coffee out of a clear-class cup–I’m with him, but glass is better than the paper cups we get from Starbucks and nothing is as good as a ceramic one. This may be a universal experience.

I think tea drinkers are even more aware of this principle–the mug matters.

There is meaning in the mug.

I don’t subjectively decide one vessel is superior to the other for the consumption of hot beverages, it’s an objective truth and it lies in the mug itself. These objective qualities that make one mug superior to another is not simply a matter of practical considerations, although these are important; if the vessel it too large, or the walls too thin, the beverage will cool too quickly. There is inherent value in the mug itself that most enhances the consumption of its contents. This has to do with blending of a host of qualities, not the least of which is tactile.  That point at which its physicality encounters my own.  A mug is more than a mug, the physical thing, in the same way, although perhaps to a lesser degree, that I am more than a physical thing.

Perhaps the mug is magic?

If the mug is just a mug, then the drinker is just a drinker. When we devalue the world of objects, we also devalue ourselves.

When the world is flattened, we become flattened.

If you sense that you are more than a resource, than a thing that has value only for its utility, then perhaps you are in no immediate danger of the modern malaise.  If you want immunity, start by seeing the inherent value in your coffee cup.

So part of the cure for the modern malaise is the recovery of objective reality.

Read a related post here.  It’s about onions.