Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why ritual?

When I was a kid, ritual was something boring that happened in a church or synagogue, that had nothing to do with me -- and no point that I could see.

When I was first an active real estate broker, I had the good fortune to have a buyer client who needed to get out of a purchase contract on a perfectly good condominium (and I do mean perfect -- the contractor's inspection, for once, found exactly nothing wrong). I thought to call a feng shui expert (this was before almost anyone had heard of feng shui), and the expert got her out of the contract because the location of the condo was bad, and incurable.

A while later, when she bought a townhouse nearby, he inspected again, and then did a house blessing ritual immediately upon closing. That was eye opening! We stood in the tiny garden, and said different prayers over a vase she'd bought to put in the entry hall. I psychically saw different colors stream into the vase with the different prayers! When I checked with the expert later, the colors did, in fact, match the colors associated with the 'deities' for each prayer! So that's what ritual objects were meant to be -- objects that carried spiritual energy! And the point of that ritual was to bring those energies into the house.

This year's Thanksgiving, an elegant, sit down dinner for 18, taught me even more about ritual: what it is, and why it is. Every year, after Thanksgiving, I write notes about what worked and what didn't, along with ideas about how to make things go more smoothly. I take photos of the set up, too -- table placement for however many there are that year, place setting, etc. I keep all the once-a-year recipes with those notes, too. So each year, Thanksgiving gets easier for me, and more fun for my family and friends. I've learned that we should go around the tables, each saying what we're thankful for before we pass out the soup. I've learned that kids make great soup plate runners, serving diners while I ladle soup in the kitchen, that turkey cooks surprisingly fast at 500 degrees, and that a bus bucket in the kitchen keeps clean up much more organized.

OMG, that's a ritual! Rituals are just ways of doing things that work, so you do them the same way, over and over. Not only are they effective, but they also help people know what to expect, which makes everyone comfortable. I think the problem with the church/synagogue rituals to which I was exposed as a kid was that they had in some way outlived their usefulness -- or that the true spirituality behind the form had been lost over time.

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