Ritualistic Spirituality

The following is a post from Will Retherford, one of our students:

We not only nurture our sacred relationships through ritual, but we are nurtured by them as well. In ritual, we move, and we are moved.
— ALISON LEIGH LILLY

We all need a little more solitude in our lives. We also need a little more community as well. 

The more I experience life as a Christian the more I truly believe that communal spirituality fuels our individual spirituality and individual spirituality fuels our communal spirituality. We need both. Just like how introverts need a little more extrovertism in their lives, and how most extroverts need to learn to calm down. 

Spirituality is simply the practice of our faith.

Ritualistic spirituality is the specific place, time, and practice that best fits the way we communicate to the Divine communally or individually. 

And community and solitude are the two realms of spirituality.

We need the Church. Maybe not our parent's church, but we need a community of believers to worship with. The early Church latin phrase "unus Christianusnulls Christianus," which means “one Christian, no Christian” is deeply profound. We cannot be genuinely Christian in isolation. We are saved into the Kingdom of God and into the Body of the Church. When we experience salvation, we experience belonging. We go from belonging to ourselves to belonging in the Divine family. 

We need solitude of heart. Solitude is our confidence when we are alone with Christ. It’s where the deepest and darkness parts can be confronted if we are willing to go there. Time alone with Christ, without distractions, can make us healthier people for our communities. Henri Nouwen says that solitude is an inner quality or attitude that does not depend on physical isolation, and that it does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead makes real fellowship possible. 

We all have daily rituals.

We all have rituals whether we like the term or not. Let’s use the word “rhythm” as a substitute for the word “ritual” for the sake of an alternative. 

Now, use your imagination for a second. 

Think about your average day. What is your normal flow when you wake up? Do you kiss your wife and say, "good morning?" Do you check social media, email, or tinder? Do you weigh your coffee beans, grind them, and pour 202 degree water over those grounds in a circular fashion? Maybe you do none of those things, but you definitely do something. 

Intentional or not, we all have patterns (rhythms) that we follow throughout our day. 

Our days may not always look the same, but we typically stick to similar patterns like: a favorite coffee shop, a time to work out, a favorite bench at the park for reading, a specific podcast or Spotify playlist to listen to, a favorite spot if you smoke, a specific route we take to work, a typical word we say when we stub our toe, and the list goes on. 

Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.”

Many of our rhythms (patterns) are intentional and many are subconscious. 

Many are harmful, and some are healthy. 

We need to inject more and more time with Christ in order to make up for the unhealthy patterns that pull us away from him.

Life as a Christian is constantly taking two steps forward and one step back. It’s the daily tension of walking out our salvation. Including prayer and worship as part of our daily rhythm will form us more and more into the likeness of Christ. 

Ritualistic Spirituality combats the rituals of our vices.

Our vices are our inclinations that could lead to sin. We all have the potential to fall into every kind of vice, but some seem to follow us more than others. If you are more inclined to the vice of anger, it could lead you to the sin of cursing a fellow human being. If you have the vice of lust, it could lead you to sexual immorality. If you have the vice of gluttony, you may take all of the cake in the buffet line when there are several people behind you. We all have a particular thorn in our side, and we must fight this with worship. We must combat the rhythms of our sin with the rhythms of our worship.

Our plan shouldn’t be “not to sin,” but to be actively in a rhythm of worship that keeps a vice (habit) from leading to sin (action). My bishop Ed Gungor says, "Sin isn't so much about ‘things' we do as it is about how certain things emit energies that rupture our relationship with God & neighbor.”

Ritualistic Spirituality is a plethora of diverse practices.

When we study and meditate on the Bible, whether we realize it or not, we are being formed by the sacred words on that page. Something spiritual is happening to us, whether we feel it or not. 

When we sing songs corporately, we are being united by the presence of God as we sing truth and express human emotion. We are seeking and chasing after God together. This is sacredly bonding. 

When we sign the cross at the phrase, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” we are not just using our words to say the names of God, or using our minds to think these names, but we are also using our body to speak as well. This is called kinesthetic knowing. This is why the ritual of lifting our hands during worship is so important, we are using our body to say what our words are saying as well. Worship includes our mind, body, and words. 

When we go to our favorite seat in our house to spend time talking and praying with God, we are establishing a holy place in our own sanctuary that is dedicated to the pursuit of this Divine realtionship. 

When we pray the Daily Office, we are beginning our day and ending our day with Christ. We keep Him in the center.

When we partake in the bread and wine during the Eucharist, we are remembering the incarnation and what the cross means for our salvation. This ritual was modeled by Jesus himself, and many argue it is the most powerful sacrament for the whole Church. 

Some rituals have been standardized by the Church, but we also have the freedom to craft our own spiritual rituals that help our own formation in Christ. Not just formation for our for our minds, hearts, and bodies, but formation for our daily schedules as well. It is time we start being more intentional with this gift of life and time that God has given us. 

Ritualistic Spirituality doesn’t mean Roman Catholic.

Just like Martin Luther, most Protestants today have come from post-Catholic parents or grandparents. Often these people would describe their past spirituality as ritualistic bounding. As a kid, I always thought they were probably not Christians, but now I believe they just lost their love and passion for Christ in that specific practice and needed to change up the flavor. 

I think a Protestant expression is a fine response for someone who is post-Catholic. It is not wrong to be post-Catholic or to be currently Catholic. Many people need to explore new attributes and expressions of God. I think we can go wrong when we start throwing away our past spiritual experiences or rituals as non-useable or irrelevant for our present spirituality. Whether we are actively worshipping with sacraments or not, we must not lose our value for them. 

No matter what denomination you are in, there is a specific practice that your church operates in whether it is subtle or obvious. As the Church, God has helped us create a conditioning for the purpose of spiritual formation, but He never intended for us to be bound by it. Christ ritualized the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Christ ritualized the washing of the feet as an act of humility and servanthood. Jesus also decided to heal someone while spitting in mud and rubbing it on their eyes, but I am not sure this was ritualized. God has guided us to create structures for communal practice, but He is delighted when we jump out of the box for His glory. Though some would say the Church is currently a mess, just think about the mess if it didn’t have some sort of structure for worship. 

God uses our past, present, and future to craft our stories for His kingdom to teach us new things about Him and His Church. He holds it all together. He holds the tensions within all of our denominations while using all of them for His glory, even in the midst of our ignorance and competitiveness. 

Many of us want to run beyond the borders of ritualized spirituality. 

I am not a "structure guy." I love to run free beyond any borders, but I understand how important a crafted communal practice is, and a personalized daily ritual of prayer and worship. It has shaped and formed me in ways that I could never do on my own. We all need to experience God freely in ways that sometimes a structured church service cannot do. I encourage you to travel the world and experience different ethnicities and cultures. Again, these are just different rituals and practices. Many may argue that being liberated of a communal or individual worship practice is itself a ritual and a practice. If you find yourself losing the passion, research new ways of meditating, change the page in your Bible; explore new ways of worship. You should never feel bound, but always feel like you’re on a mysterious never-ending pursuit of the Divine. 

Belonging to the Church takes work.

As Christians, we must fight the curse of this world with the blessings of worship. We will always be tempted and fall short until God renews this earth, but walking out our salvation means we are in constant pursuit of peace, hope, and love. Salvation doesn’t mean we have the golden ticket. It means we have a much bigger responsibility now to change the earth with love. Belonging to the Divine family takes work, and ritualized practices are just one way we can move toward holiness together. 

Closing prayer:

May our daily rituals coincide with rituals of prayer, worship, and love. May we become less, so He can be more. May our hearts reflect the beauty and mystery of God. May our worship keep our vices from becoming action that is sin. May we walk in a rhythm of worship. May our lives reflect the character of Jesus. May the Church unite in word, thought, and deed. May we always love. Amen.