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The Importance of Ritual.
By George Davis in All Sorts
rituals provide structure to ours lives, but there are lean pickings the poor and out-of-work, homeless; what can the church provide?THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUAL
All of us are involved in rituals and have been from our birth. Indeed, the act of birth itself, for so long closeted within the domain of women is ritualistic. It has a term called gestation, attendants whether they be doctors and nurses or a midwife and relatives and friends. Some of you will remember a country where it was the man’s role to wait outside the house or the hospital until the arrival was formally announced. Many men used to escape in New Zealand to the local hotel to either celebrate or drown their sorrows. Such I think is less common today, but “wetting the baby’s head” is still common among many families once the child arrives home.
We all have daily personal rituals – getting out of bed in the morning, bathing in a certain order. I far prefer a bath where I luxuriate in warm water and think. The daily ablutions contain an order, usually the same for each day – washing, doing one’s hair, eating breakfast then brushing teeth. Your order may be different but each day may have fixed points. Some have their breakfast set out on the table the night before. But some have little breakfast – more about that below.
There are larger, more important rituals for some and generally they are removed from the mundane daily tasks. Christenings, weddings and funerals are some. These provide significant marker points in our lives where we might meet the extended family. These rituals contain important features that are often repeated – with Christmas, the address book is got out, presents are wrapped and posted, a pine tree or a modern replacement is put up and decorated, invitations and arrangements are made for all to attend who can. On the day, particularly if there are children present there is a sense of anticipation as presents are unwrapped and delight is palpable. Boxing Day follows and some go out to purchase presents at a cheaper price than before Christmas Day. The tree is then taken down soon after. The pine needles brushed up, and a New Year begins. This season of Advent is particularly important to those who call themselves Christians for its rituals annually embed the basic joy of renewal of faith.
Other rituals come less frequently. Voting once every three years is a Saturday ritual for me and my wife, Judith. Sometimes the results are less satisfying than the results of a daily bathe. By the time this article is distributed, the numbers of special votes will be known – a matter which apparently will allow a minor party to choose which major party it will form an alliance with in order to form a government. Although I support MMP over First Past the Post as a more democratic form of representation, I have a scornful view of a politician being called “the Kingmaker” when he cannot even gain the confidence of the electorate which he sought to represent. The strength of MMP was to give minor parties a voice and place in the House of Representatives, not to call the shots over other parties which had by far the largest support of the electorate.
And so to our state of the nation – we have a skewed market for housing where the needy are shut out of places to buy, a high suicide rate (these two are more likely linked), increased prices for common foods because of the dominance of overseas trends on commodities, common assaults increasing in the community, a health system which seems to be in a state of disorganisation - all of these and other problems have been subject to election promises by politicians, but what is done?
What is lacking is a state of grace and the application of common sense. It seems that an obvious benefit that the Church used to confer on the community was both of these necessities. The Church’s principal thrust of “Love thy neighbour” seems to be lost in the overwhelming spam of trivia that comes at us from all directions in society. TV, newspapers, idle conversations veer away from the serious and problematic issues that need addressing. Poverty, inadequate housing and loneliness are now confronting issues in this society. And their place is exacerbated by the rich capturing so much of the economic cake in New Zealand. When 85% of the wealth of the country is in the hands of less than 10% of the nation then we have a massive problem of inequality. It is the seedbed of revolution. It is simply not good enough to say “It was always so” or that “the rich get richer and the wealth trickles down to the less well-off” because it is simply not so. It is not the truth, and even slight knowledge of New Zealand history would tell one so.
A key part of what has been lost by many in New Zealand is ritual. Their lives have little order, little to pin hope to. Their Christmases are provided by some charity, their dependence is not on honest work but on what lean pickings they can get from the Ministry of Social Development through Work and Income. The very fact of dependency puts them in a position where random acts of kindness form their daily rituals. This randomness pervades their lives. Money comes and goes, little is put aside against a day of need, for every day is the same.
Has the Church a role here? It certainly has and the Mission is at the forefront of putting the issues of the needy in front of the public. Maybe, this has been misplaced, not by the Mission, but by us the congregational workers. The Methodist Church was founded on addressing the spiritual and corporeal needs of the people, and indeed possibly was so effective that it averted the possibility of a social revolution in the country. We need to take a more effective role here. Politicians’ platitudes are not cutting it, so it is time for congregations to identify neighbourhood needs and act to effectively address them. What do you think?
George Davis, 6 October 2017.