Practical Spirituality

Practical Spirituality


The Path to the Sacred: What is a Ritual?

posted by Jonathan Ellerby

When people hear the word ‘ritual’
many think of empty actions, repeated and repeated without meaning. The word
“habit” and ritual are often connected. Frequently people in the Western world
even use the word in a negative fashion, associating ritual with the actions of
wild religious cults, and irresponsible people who use spirituality to hurt
others. We should not, however, let the misuse of words deter us. A healthy use
of ritual involves an action sequence involving our body, place and objects.
This sequence is set in a pattern intended to connect us with the sacred order
of the spiritual world. Ritual intends to shift our awareness to cultivate an
immediate felt relationship to the power and presence of Spirit. 

The communion ritual in Christian
tradition is an example of a sacred action and pattern that uses the physical
world to unite people in the metaphysical force of Chirst’s love and
consciousness. It is important to remember that when the intent is strong, the
bread and the wine carry the spiritual power of Christ’s own body and blood.
This is neither simple psychological symbolism, nor literal cannibalism. It is
a sacred ritual in which the subtle spiritual energies of the world are
engaged. This ritual has opened millions of hearts and minds to spiritual
experiences that have changed their lives. The ritual is more than the act, it
is a gateway to an inner encounter of The sacred.

In ritual we use our bodies and
sacred objects in three primary ways. First, is the use of ritual to embody and
interact with the patterns of the spiritual world. Second, through intent,
symbol and action we activate the subtle energy within things to have an impact
on our body and awareness. Rituals aim to mirror the scared world by creating a
microcosm we can interact with, and thus touch and be touched by the greater
forces of this world. Alternately and closely related, a healthy ritual act is
an act of power: a behavior, gesture or action that intentionally moves energy
to effect a positive change.

Finally, there is a psychological shift
that impacts our attitude and worldview. This final element is helpful when it comes
to managing our emotions and reactions in daily life. If we carry the ritual
mindset with us into our lives, we see that all habits, actions and routines
can be acts of power and intent. When understood properly, a ritual should ideally
be infused with these three elements. While it may become a consistent
practice, try to make the meaning and value endure. Be careful not to fall into
unconscious habit.

It
is easy to get caught up in the language and semantics around ritual – trying
to differential between ceremony, rites, rites, sacraments etc. For our purpose
here, any distinct action that fulfills one or more of the above three
functions is a ritual. A ceremony may be made up of many rituals and many of
the other 11 Master Paths incorporate ritual into their process and protocol.
Yet, rituals may stand alone. Entering a Christian church many people will
kneel, make the Sign of the Cross upon themselves and proceed to the service of
the day. But the same act of kneeling and evoking the Sign of the Cross may be
done at home, in nature or before bed. 



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