The Importance of Ritual

June 15, 2019
A row of hands clasped in prayer

When our son was young, we attended two musical programs with him. The first was a toddler program called Music Together, and then he attended violin lessons taught in the Suzuki method before he was four. Aside from the common topic—music—I noticed many other similarities between these two programs, but the strongest connection between them was ritual. Both programs incorporated ritual into how the lesson began, the order of the elements, and how the lesson ended. Some elements remained the same week after week and others changed. It dawned on me that the success of these two programs was due in part to the fact that many children thrive on structure and ritual.  

In this divisive time in the world, where many things seem to change so rapidly, don’t we adults also thrive on knowing that some aspects of our own world are reliable and unchanging? Don’t we also yearn for things that are familiar? But do things that are unchanging also become boring, too predictable, and meaningless? Where is the balance between the familiar and the new? Is ritual part of what brings us to worship: a sense of knowing something intimately and participating in a structure that is predictable and comfortable? When does it become too comfortable and perhaps lose its impact on our lives? 

I think that for many people, the ritual of attending worship is also about establishing relationships, making connections, understanding one another, and breaking down walls between ourselves and the “other.”

Ritual is also experienced through the action of rehearsing music and encouraged through good preparation. Maybe you have personal rituals for your own preparation for services. As we know, music is part of the ritual of liturgy, including songs at certain times, instrumental music at others, pieces repeated weekly during specific seasons, and special music for baptisms and communions. How can the music you choose enhance liturgy and create rituals in your worship services?