We are spreading our parents’ ashes today in our hometown. Fun fact: Mom and Dad were full-body buried in caskets sealed in “50 year waterproof guaranteed” vaults almost 30 years ago. There are no ashes. But we will make do because we need this ritual in Chapel Hill and so that’s what’s happening.
Every healthy family, every healthy organization celebrates Rituals that bring joy and comfort. They might seem strange to those outside the family/organization but they bring Meaning. They bond people together.
Rituals in my assorted circles:
- We sing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” everytime Duke loses a basketball game. (family)
- Somebody gets Henry’s Hulk ornament in his/her stocking every year. (family)
- We eat warm homemade rum cake for Kitty’s birthday. (office)
- We do a summer outing together that has nothing to do with work. (office)
You get the picture.
Religious communities also have rituals but sometimes they are more like “practices” rather than “traditions.” Our practices might involve having a Women’s Group Bake Sale on Palm Sunday. Our historical traditions might include having the children march through the aisles with palms.
Sometimes our secular practices are more meaningful rituals than the traditional ones. So many “church traditions” are meaningless because there’s never been an explanation much less an emotional connection. For example, I once served a church with a very high central pulpit. The Reformed Tradition behind that architectural plan was about the Word of God being the highest thing in the room. But a young worshipper once asked me why I “preached from so high so that I could look down on people?”
Explaining our traditions is a good thing. But making them meaningful is not something we can control (In the words of Regina George: We can’t make “fetch” happen.)
We can’t decide that something will become meaningful to us. It’s meaningful or it isn’t. Or maybe it doesn’t seem very meaningful at one point in our lives but – as time passes – it’s meaning deepens.
The tasks of a 21st Century spiritual leader include being the tour guide who explains our faith traditions and the storyteller/performer who connects the brain with the spirit.
As we spread something representing my parents’ ashes this afternoon in one of the holiest places on earth, it will mean everything because we will be together in a spot we’ve been before, in a place we loved each other. I can already feel it.