Of Superbowls and Rituals

There’s a joke in the Catholic ministry community that goes like this: “What is the difference between a liturgist (the person who plans the details of the Mass and other prayers) and a terrorist?” The answer: “You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

In our liturgical tradition (and others), all the unique elements that make up the flavor of the liturgy, the prayer, are precious to us. We love the details of color, gesture, music and more that come with our seasons and feast days. And we stick to them, by gum. No freelancing! Right now, if you were to walk into any Catholic sanctuary, it would be decorated in green. No doubt Packer’s aficionados find this particularly peaceful (but don’t worry Vikings fans: Lent will bring the color purple in just a few weeks!).

Anthropologists tell us that ritual is a core element of being a human being; that it organizes and expresses beliefs about society and the cosmos and helps define the human place in both.  So, it’s no surprise that everything from national spectacles to the quiet moments of our domestic lives are touched by ritual.  How do you memorialize the founding of the nation? Well, stunning displays of fireworks, of course, watched while consuming some apple pie. How do you launch high school students into the next chapter of their lives? Walk them in procession wearing caps and gowns and play a little “pomp and circumstance” in the background.

Parents and others who care for young children know the power of ritual in anchoring and providing a sense of safety, identity, and connection. First jammies. Then tooth brushing. Next a book of a reasonable length. “Okay, two. No, not three.” A hug, a kiss, covers tucked in, often a prayer, and bedtime is complete. Try removing these sorts of rituals from kids, and bammo, chaos ensues!

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking out our public rituals, particular those surrounding sports. For me, going to a Twins or Vikings game is almost liturgical. There are ritual songs that we sing. We stand and sit at designated moments, and no one instructing us on the timing. We wear our ritual colors – religiously. And the ritual food! I’m sorry. In my family, it’s not a game unless there is a brat involved.

This week we’ll experience one of the great American rituals, the Superbowl. Literally, thousands of our friends and neighbors throughout the region will be suited up in their Northstar themed spirit wear extending a warm welcome to the out of towners who have come in for the big game. They will trot out a tuned-up Minnesota nice (and fans from that city that sits between the Schuylkill and Delaware: Take notes. It’s time to tweak the “brotherly love!”). The Superbowl will be followed by the Olympics. The Twins opener. Soccer, baseball, and track will commence at the High School and in our community leagues, and red and black will be the colors of the day.

Those of us who study liturgy learn a great deal about the power of our rituals and the details that make them up. Ritual, enacted to express our faith beliefs, brings the same sort of identity and connection that secular rituals bring, but we believe it brings even more. Our cherished and often ancient religious rituals add a deeper valence because they are not only about community and identity but about our relationship of both to the divine.  A baptism, a bris, a wedding or funeral celebrated in religious ritual invokes a deep connection not only to those who are present, but to all those who have gone before us in our faith tradition, and those who will follow us on the journey. And to the God of our understanding.

In our houses of worship, we will continue to perform our ancient, powerful, connection bringing rituals. As Spring approaches, we will distribute ashes as we commence the season of Lent. We’ll break out our Purim costumes and get over to the Crossroads deli for the hamantaschen. We’ll begin the fast of the blessed month Ramadan and break it at Iftar dinners with our families and friends. The colors of the joyous Holi festival will remind us of love. The list goes on.

Embrace your rituals, wherever you find them. Create a new ritual or two. And if you are feeling a longing to expand your expression in community and with an eye toward the divine, know that our houses of worship are waiting for you – be they churches, mosques, synagogues or temples. Mine’s green right now, and I would just love to share it with you.

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