Still thinking about ritualizing the dark side. Having come to terms with the notion of ritualizing, I’ve been thinking about the various contexts of my life in which I can develop this practice.
Perhaps the most obvious context, in light of the word “ritual”, is that of the institutional church. That’s certainly where I most frequently engage rituals, particularly as I attend a highly liturgically-oriented church. A pre-determined liturgy has several advantages when it comes to ritualizing just about anything, and I appreciate the more-than-cursory nods to the darker side of life. A weekly prayer of confession, for instance, reminds me each week of the power of darkness over my own spirit and behavior. On a yearly basis we observe the season of lent, which certainly makes real the darkest time in the history of our faith.
Of all the liturgical practices to ritualize darkness, I think my favorite is the Eucharist. One lesson that was taught over and over in my low-church childhood was that I should never take the Lord's supper "unworthily." This directive was no doubt a healthy one (not to mention directly lifted from Scripture!) and it helped me develop an understanding of self-examen and repentance. As I bring that understanding to what I now call Eucharist, however, I've internalized something new: how can I ever approach this table other than unworthily?! There is nothing I can do - ever - that will make me deserving of such a gift. Period. For me, each Sunday morning when I step up to the brass railing, I participate in a ritual of lament. For those brief moments I am deeply in touch with the darkness and need within my own soul. Most of all, I’m reminded of –and paradoxically relieved of—my doubts. My ever-spinning, questioning mind is momentarily brought to a standstill. In the practice of receiving the bread and wine, I recognize the frailty of my belief, and set it aside ever so briefly to join in the disciplines of this community.
Interestingly, as I write this, I discover that this ritual of repentance and sorrow and doubt is a tremendous gift. I’m so grateful for a place to acknowledge all this “stuff”. Whatever else is theologically intended by this practice, it creates a sort of freedom to stare unflinchingly into the haunting eyes of failure and even despair.
Perhaps you’ll argue that this doesn’t ritualize only darkness, that the Eucharist (and other practices as well) reflect to us also the hope of our faith. And, of course, you’d be right. But I find it helpful to consider that these rituals remind us of both. Darkness and light. Despair and hope. And I think it’s Great News that the practice of our faith makes room for both.