As I’ve told earlier, I work (volunteering) as a writer on a Danish web-portal, Religion.dk. The last article I was asked to write, was about my view on rituals.
Since I wrote the article, I have been thinking about it, mostly because I wasn’t very satisfied with it, but also about how I view and understand rituals in general. It’s like the thought doesn’t want to leave my mind. So I though that I wanted to reflect a little more on it, sharing my thoughts with you.
As you all know I’m a Jew, a religious one of the kind, and rituals play a huge part of my religion, from I get up in the morning to going to sleep in the evening (or night), whether we talk prayers, studies or something else. My first action when waking, is a ritual, giving thanks to G-D for letting my soul return to my body (according to Jewish belief that the soul leaves the body during sleep, having sleep being on sixtieth of death). Wakening can be considered a miracle and a chance for making a better life.
After waking up I wash my hand. Well, washing sounds a little simplified, I perform a ritual washing of hands, since I don’t know where I’ve put my hands during sleep (hmm). After that giving thanks for having a body that works as it’s supposed to, then blessing the “returner of souls,” putting on the Tzitzit (also with a blessing), blessing the commandment of studying Torah, as well as blessing the One giving us the Torah, establishing peace, reminding myself, and whoever listen, of the things we don’t have limits on doing, such as the study of Torah, doing good deeds and so on, reminding myself of things I have to do in this life, but for which I receive the “payment” in the World to Come, then going on to the prayer, putting on the Tallit and the Tefillin, and then the morning prayer.
Does it sound of a lot to do? This is just the first fifteen minute to half hour. Of course, the morning prayer, Shaharit, makes it even longer. My day is one long ritual.
This might most likely seem overwhelming for he or she, who isn’t used to such a structured day, and at first it was so too for me, but it is something you will get used to, making it a practice, a habit. And here lies the danger, that it becomes just that, a habit. The thing is, actions without thoughts are empty actions, like a body without a soul. What is your prayer worth, if your thoughts are dealing with everything else besides directing your focus to Him, Who you’re praying to?
The truth is that I appreciate the rituals, whether I say a blessing over a piece of chocolate or prepare myself for the prayer, it gives me a sense of structure, sense of the day, a pulse. But I also fear the rituals, for they can become habits, and if they become so, they become meaningless, even worse than that, a mockery. I sincerely believe that G-D wants us to live, to reflect, to perceive, but doing without thinking about what you’re doing, is doing the opposite of these things, doing an act without reflecting, being aware of it, is like making a body without life. That’s why my rituals are not only actions, done in order to make my life reflect my religion, but also being a provocation to reflection, whether tying my laces or relating to another human being (or just being in general).