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Dialogue on Ritual

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John Breadon
September 19 at 5:47pm
Hi Debbie. My wife is a Quaker. If you know anything about Quakers you'll probably know that when it comes to their religious services they don't have much ritual. They just gather together for one hour, mostly in a circle and mostly in silence. A handshake between the members completes the worship - a way of saying 'It's over, time for tea', I suppose. Sometimes they have a table in the middle of the meeting room with flowers or a Bible on it. And that's more or less it. I like going to Quaker Meeting - but I also like to get back to my other church life. This life - my life as a priest - is full of silly dresses, candles, robes, incense and other stuff. Somehow, if I was to become a Quaker, I would miss most the aspect of doing something at church; maybe you could call it performing. What matters most to you about the things you actively DO at synagogue? I'd also be interested to know what you would get out of a Quaker Meeting?!!



Debbie Young-Somers
September 19 at 6:06pm
I'm a person that really gets a lot out of ritual too... even if I can't find a rational reason for it, I love involving myself physically, and having ceremonies to mark transformation, transition, or to make the day structured or just for fun!! But we're all different, so it's important to me that different religious expression is around to allow for diffferent types of people to find religious expression. I think silence is something that is undervalued often, and doesn't get the attention it should, and perhaps taking some quiet time would really benefit me... it would allow me time to think that i think I often deny myself. As a Priest what's your sense about what rituals bring to people you meet?


John Breadon
September 23 at 11:33am
Hmmnn ... me thinks (not in silence I should add, I'm listening to a CD by Lambchop!). I liked your choice of words transformation and transition. These are key. Some events in life - though perhaps all events are? - come to us as issues of ultimate concern (a phrase coined by the theologian Paul Tillich). They overwhelm us, re-organise our lives and thoughts about life. They break the moulds we've made for ourselves and force us into change. Rituals help us to manage these great moments of transformation and transition. As well as something psychological in this (the need to move, work, make etc.), the deeper level is that of the communal. Ritual is fundamentally social. I know I have lots of little private rituals (washing up before I cook, then matching the music I'm going to listen to so that it matches my mood, switching off my phone so I'm not disturbed etc.) but this feels more like routine than real ritual. The most powerful ritual I've been involved in during my time in parish life was the annual All Souls' Day memorial service. This was when we invited all those who had lost loved ones in the past 12 months to come back to church to remember them. On average we would get about 200 to this service. At the heart of this service was moving up to the front of church to light a candle. The force - both literal and metaphorical - of 200 candles is quite something. What we were doing was making a statement that we're not alone in our suffering and that by gathering to think again about those gone from us we are conquering a little bit of death's kingdom. Ritual carries and conveys our deepest convictions if you like - such as life is stronger than death - and enables us to manage the balance between memory (the past) and hope in new things (the future). In short, ritual gives us some sense of control over life even, paradoxically, when we feel most powerless.


Debbie Young-Somers
October 10 at 4:57pm
You All souls day sounds very moving. Death is often a time when people seek out community, though it can also be a time of a lot of anger, and it certainly has been in my case, but i think the power of communities can be very healing, particularly in Jewish mourning rituals which are designed to honour and remember the dead, but also to help the mouners remember the importance of carrying on in this world. I actually had a very difficult experience which I think is sort of linked to ritual a few weeks back. Every year at the High Holidays we Rabbinic students are sent out to different communities and this year i was in a much larger community than in the past, and so wasn't on my own but working with another Rabbi. This left me with lots of time to think and pray for myself rather than running the 'show' (which often means I don't engage with the prayers and liturgy as much as I might- i need to work on this) but this year I found, on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (saying sorry) I felt totally alienated from the prayers and realised I was still very very angry about the death of my dad, and I found the idea of prayers that ask God for things very difficult. I couldn't say them. I was really very shocked by my reaction to prayers I've been saying for years, but the problem is I don't believe in a God that really intervenes in this world, and so asking God for health or happiness doesn't make sense to my view of God. What I realised is that the hebrew word for praying is reflexive - that is, you do it to yourself, or for yourself. So I think for me I came out of this with a much stronger sense of the prayers - when I pray for healing, I'm praying to model healing and bring healing in my life and others. When I pray for peace in the world, I have to model this and work for it. I was relieved to be able to maintain my ritual prayers with the community, and my personal sense of God...


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