Ritual is not only about entertainment. It is not only a pleasant pastime or an opportunity to socialize. It is not even simply a psychological tool to shape ourselves and our communities through shared emotional or aesthetic experiences, though it can certainly be used this way.
At the heart of my spiritual life rests the deep knowing that ritual is a way of listening to the Song of the World as it moves through the earth and the land, and engaging with that Song as something holy, wholly challenging and transformative. Shared ritual is when we accept the burden and blessing of being embodied beings of this dense, physical world that gives us life, and when allow ourselves to respond in kind, to speak back to the natural world with its energies and currents and wild mysteries. Ritual is not for our sake alone, but for the sake of the whole world. It is for the sake of the solitude and silence that surrounds us, that frightening shadow of void and absence that makes us who we are, makes us whole.
We ignore it or seek to replace it at our own peril, for the world is what is real. Even in our deepest solitude, the world of experience and natural forces persists.
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We have been neglectful and arrogant for a long time in this country, intoxicated with our own power, lulled into disconnection by our own thirst for convenience and speed and ease. Those years of solitude I spent grieving and kneeling to the dust on the floor were not made up of my grief alone. The land, too, grieves. She misses us. She longs for us to once again touch her as a lover caresses the beloved, to whisper to her of our secret dreams and sit with her in the long silences of twilight. She aches to be with us in our ritual and our prayer. She loves to feel the pounding of our feet and our drums in dance and song and praise — not the scraping and gnawing of our machines and our indifference and our consumerism and our denial.
Our religious communities are not only human. The world, too, the earth and her creatures and her ecosystems and forests and rivers and storms — all these are part of our community of spirit, the community from which our lives crest and subside again like waves of the ocean. And we cannot embrace the world in its wholeness and holiness if we seek to escape it or deny it through digital media that robs it of its voice and deadens our ability to listen to its thrumming presence in even the deepest silences and loneliest moments. Digital and social media have their place, they can give us some direction and help us to share ideas and information across the globe. But they cannot ever replace the hard, necessary work of showing up to ourselves in all of our limited, bounded, frustratingly beautiful imperfections and engaging in the wildness and wilderness of a world so much bigger than we are.
Please, please, please: Go read the whole thing. And then go outside.
Picture found here.