Have you seen this sign? Do you take comfort in rituals? If you've been in a Starbucks lately, I'm sure you've noticed this slogan adorning the front door. I think it's interesting that Starbucks is appealing to people with the idea of rituals. You may expect me to speak out against rituals. Honestly, I am not against rituals at all. In fact, I take great comfort particularly in the rituals that come with this time of year. I can't wait for turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce (and yes, I love the kind that comes out of a can in one gelatinous whole). Every year on Christmas Eve it is my ritual to gather up my kids and read the Christmas story just before bed. And my personal favorite is to watch Its A Wonderful Life in its entirety in black and white and cry like it's my first time to see it. Some rituals are beneficial and a welcomed part of our lives. At the same time, rituals have a dark side and should be approached with caution.
I have learned that every great ritual in our lives was born from a genuine desire to uphold a value we consider very important. I watch "It's A Wonderful Life" because I so badly want to make a difference like George Bailey. I read the Christmas story because I believe in the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and hope of the world. I'm not sure why I eat a can of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving...but I do.
So, how do we know if a ritual is good or bad? We all need to take the Ritual Test. This isn't rocket science, but it is profound. We need to evaluate our rituals based on whether or not they help us engage or escape. All rituals originate with an intent to keep us engaged with something important, but along the way our tendency is to allow our rituals to become mindless routine. Any ritual for ritual's sake is escapism. Instead of honoring the value we hold dear, we hide behind the activity. The great temptation we all face is motion without meaning. I see this first-hand every Sunday. The ritual is to come together to engage in the worship of God through music and teaching, Communion and Baptism. The Sunday ritual is meant to help us stay engaged in our personal relationship with Jesus. However, it is very easy for the ritual to become meaningless activity. It becomes the smoke screen we hide behind to escape the reality of our relationship with God.
Should we take comfort in rituals? Yes, but only to be engaged in what is truly important. Refuse to escape into meaningless motion and instead be fully engaged with family and friends, thankfulness and celebration, worship and prayer, even George Bailey and cranberry sauce all for the Glory of God. Take comfort in rituals.