Does Ritual Have Any Value?
A byproduct of my spiritual formation is a disdain for ritual. To me, a ritual is a meaningless religious activity that is mechanically performed; it is an empty ceremony and a mindless habit, devoid of substance.
This perspective is due in part to what I read in the Bible, where God repeatedly criticizes his followers for their meaningless rituals. However, I don’t think he was attacking their rituals, but their attitude behind them; after all, much of the Old Testament Law prescribed ritual.
The other reason for my dislike of ritual is that I was always repelled whenever I was expected to participate in one. It may be that I see rituals as a relic of the past, something that Jesus freed me from—or it may be nothing more than a rebellious spirit. I am even resistant to the traditional mealtime prayer because it is so hard to keep it from becoming a requisite and meaningless habit that must legalistically precede the proper ingestion of food.
However, I also know that, unlike me, many people find a spiritual ritual to be an inspiring and meaningful act. Perhaps this is why some churches have a liturgical service and others do not. Different strokes for different folks.
Despite my dislike of ritual, a friend recently pointed out that I have, in fact, adopted my own rituals, which I call spiritual disciplines.
For example, I usually end and begin each day with prayer; I regularly have a time of daily Bible reading and contemplation, and I generally fast one day each week. These are my rituals, they aren’t done mindlessly, and they do hold meaning for me.When it is done right, there is value in spiritual ritual. Click To Tweet
They have become a significant part of my spiritual formation and growth. So, when done right, rituals are valuable after all.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.