Ritual and Freedom

I was doing some research for a sermon I am writing and came across the following quote,

It is significant that the new capacity for freedom related to movement is actualized as a form of art. Human beings dance–ballet and folk and jazz and ballroom and T’ai Chi–as an expression of aesthetic possibilities.  Each art form is developed as a ritual to express one’s exhilaration and freedom. ‘To us,’ writes Alan Oken in the Age of Aquarius, ‘rock music represents freedom… the freedom to feel, to be one with a higher collective force, to move together in one cosmic rhythm.’  One ‘dances for joy,’  or to express sexuality or religious feelings, as in the whirling of Muslim Dervishes, or to ‘drum’ up emotion for battle, like the war dances of the Native Americans.  Movement and theexpansion of freedom are symbolic expressions of the individual’s career from birth to death.’   From Rollo May’s Freedom and Destiny

I wondered as I read this passage, if this then is the importance of ritual in worship?  The ability to connect with one’s sense of freedom.  There seems to be a resurgence in the need for ritual in Unitarian Universalist circles and perhaps this is the reason–a desire to tap into this sense of freedom.

Rituals serve many purposes.  There is a body kinesthetic– a comfortable body memory–of walking silently, hands folded prayerfully in front of the chest to receive the eucharist from the priest or to walk up to the altar and kneel with hands open to receive the eucharist.  The body is symbolically reflecting a humble submissive receptive form before the holy.  

Now Unitarians Universalists generally do not perform this specific ritual but some congregations in our movement do celebrate communion.  One such communion ritual is that of breaking bread and passing the cup at Thanksgiving time.  The bread might be corn bread and the cup might be apple cider both representing the harvest of a good year and harkening back to the first Thanksgivings celebrated in this country.  This ritual of breaking bread also connects to May’s statement about freedom.  We freely choose to be in communion / in covenant with one another and the ritual honors and reaffirms that covenant symbolically. 

There is also what we have come to call the Flower Communion.  This ritual developed by Norbert Capek, is celebrated annually in many of our congregations.  The ritual is a simple act of bringing a flower and then exchanging it with another flower.  The flowers represent the diversity of our community and how each of us together form a wondeful bouquet of gifts, talents, and personalities.  It too honors the covenant that we have freely entered into with one another.

The most powerful ritual I have witnessed was performed by Rev. Barbara Pescan, currently serving our Evanston, IL congregation.  At the time she was the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in the Danbury region.  She was also co-founder with me of the Interfaith AIDS Ministry of Greater Danbury.   We held a monthly interfaith prayer service and invited clergy from various traditions to come and offer a homily.  She graciously came and presented a story about a person she knew with HIV/AIDS in the final days of his life.  She told aspects of his life and of his hospitality even as he lay dying.  On the nightstand near his bed was an Angelfood cake that was made for him.  He offered a piece to Barbara and she graciously ate.  It was a profound moment for her.  And then she brought out an Angelfood cake for us to share  with each other.  As the cake was passed from person to person. With tears in our eyes we each broke a piece off and ate.  We felt not only a connection to her friend with HIV/AIDS but also a sense of grace in the presence of death.  That in our dying we can choose to be free to love those in our presence.   

Rituals in whatever form they take can be a powerful expression of the many aspects of the human condition.  They can help us to connect those aspects of ourselves that we are unable to express fully with words but can express those connections through movement or rhythmic sounds.  There is a sense of freedom in the rituals that transcends the imprisonment of this moment. 

Perhaps in our current world of compartmentalized living that erects barriers between home and business, between partners, between parents and children, between neighbors the craving for rituals in our denomination is a cry to break free of those barriers and to reconnect once again to each other and to our most inner selves.  Blessings,

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 7:28 am  Comments Off on Ritual and Freedom  
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