In his post-apocalyptic novel The Road, McCarthy tells a story about a father and son traveling in search of civilization,. In a bleak, desolate world devoid of any human civilization, McCarthy describes an impromptu ritual that emerges between father and son after a violent encounter. The desire for ritual still emerges: evoke the forms.
“The boy sat tottering. The man watched him that he not topple into the flames. He kicked holes in the sand for the boy’s hips and shoulders where he would sleep and he sat holding him while he tousled his hair before the fire to dry it. All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.”
Finding a Private Relaxation Activity
In his highly insightful work, Inside Job, Stephen W. Smith shares the importance of finding ways to rest and relax as part of a healthy, balanced life:
I once read a book in which the author said everyone needed a private relaxation activity—something that was a “no-brainer.” For a friend of his, it was raking leaves in the driveway. For the author, it was ironing his shirts.
For my friend Brian, a CEO of a gas company, it is (believe it or not) washing dishes—much to the joy of his wife Nan and their kids! Brian told me that his daughter Brie sometimes says, “Dad, you look stressed so I am leaving my dishes in the sink for you to wash.” Isn’t that thoughtful?
The Origin of Rituals
Once upon a time there was a rabbi who, whenever he wanted God’s presence, went to a special place in the woods, lit a fire, said some prayers, and did a dance. Then God would appear to him. When he died, his disciple did the same. If he wanted God’s presence, he went to the same spot in the woods, lit the fire, and said the same prayers, but nobody had taught him the dance. It still worked. God appeared.
When the disciple died, his own disciple carried on the tradition. If he wanted God’s presence, he went to the same spot in the woods and lit the fire. He didn’t know the prayers or the dance, but it still worked. God came.
Then that disciple died. He also had a disciple. Whenever he wanted God’s presence, he, too, went to the same place in the woods, but nobody had taught him how to light the fire or say the prayers or do the dance, but it still worked, God appeared. That disciple, too, eventually died, but he also had a pupil.
One day this pupil wanted God’s presence. So he searched for the place in the woods, but couldn’t find it. And he didn’t know how to light the fire or say the prayers or do the dance. All he knew was how to tell the story. But it worked. He discovered that whenever he told the story of how the others had found God, God would appear.
In essence, this story explains how sacred ritual—liturgy—works. Judaism calls this “making zikkaron.” Christians call it “making memorial.” The idea is that a past event can be remembered, ritually recalled, in such a way that it becomes present again and can be participated in.
People do Religious Things
Some of us are interested in religious studies because we are interested in people. People do religious things; they symbolize and ritualize their lives and desire to be in a community. What piqued my interest in shopping malls initially was there concrete expressions of all three of these religious impulses.
Quadrilateral architecture, calendric rituals, replications of natural settings, and attempts to be people, places, and objects of pilgrimage, all illustrate homo religiosus. The shopping mall as a ceremonial center, the shopping mall as ‘more than’ a marketplace, is one way contemporary people are meeting their needs for renewal and reconnection, essential ingredients of religious and human life.
Ritual and Repetition
The influence of the familiar on our lives is something that advertisers never forget. The point of advertising is to capitalize on real needs or to create needs and then to provide a product to fill that need. This symbiotic relationship between the perception of need and the perception that that need is filled by purchasing a particular product does not happen by chance. Advertisers work hard at finding out why we spend our money the way we do.
The seemingly endless repetition of the same commercials is designed not simply to present a product for our consideration. Rather, they are attempting to do nothing less than create a world in which their product holds an important, if not central, place. I am certain that most conservative Christians in America would have an easier time recalling ten commercial jingles by heart, perhaps ones they have not heard for twenty or thirty years, than ten psalms (or five, or three, or one).
Repetition and familiarity work. What is repeated becomes familiar, and this becomes a part of us. Our own culture understands this, but alas, not always the church. Far too many equate ritual with spiritual dryness.28 True, ritual and liturgy can be dead—even using the terms can raise hackles—but only when the significance and power of those rituals are forgotten.
Rituals That Replenish Energy
Is your job demanding more from you than ever before? Do you feel as if you’re working additional hours but rarely getting ahead? Is your mobile device leashing you to your job 24/7? Do you feel exhausted, disengaged, and sick?
Spending longer days at the office and extra hours at home doesn’t work because time is a limited resource. But your personal energy is renewable, say Schwartz and McCarthy. By fostering deceptively simple rituals that will help you regularly replenish your energy, you can strengthen your physical, emotional, and mental resilience. These rituals include taking brief breaks at specific intervals, expressing appreciation to others, reducing interruptions, and spending more time on the activities you do best and enjoy most.