Ritual and Sacred Spaces

This past weekend I watched the Idaho Falls Temple Cultural Celebration and attended the re-dedication ceremony. Based on that and some other conversations I’ve had recently, I’ve been thinking about ritual and sacred spaces and the role of them in our lived religious experience and if we can (should?) develop supplementary rituals of our own and find our own, individual sacred spaces. I think, yes.

Ritual is an important part of religious experience (from my understanding pretty much across the board, maybe even to some extent definitionally?). We all take part in rituals, especially if we define it broadly, used in a way similar to habit or custom. Ritual has the connotation, and sometime denotation, to be explicitly religious, but I think we can approach other habits and customs that may not have explicitly religious origins with a sort of religious reverence that may imbue them with greater personal meaning.

I’m somewhat conflicted about ritual generally. The idea appeals to me and I love the possibilities of symbolism embedded in rituals, but many specific rituals that are a part of Mormonism, don’t feel inherently meaningful to me and I struggle to find the power in them. I think this is a key part of the ritual—claiming it for yourself and finding the meaning and power that is there for you. Temples are one of the most obvious, if somewhat shrouded, places where ritual is front and center for Mormons and a place where I haven’t found the same rich, powerful spirit/meaning/enlightenment that many do find.

This is probably due to a variety of factors (having a very unsettling experience when I first participated in the endowment, concerns with what strike me as sexist components, and boredom at the repetition are probably the biggest three). I have had some powerful moments within my participation, largely due to the sense of community that can be felt through participating in the ordinances. This has been especially true when I have been with friends or family members and participated with them.

I’m sure there are things I can do to be in a better frame of mind for the ritual and therefore derive more meaning from that experience. But I’m less interested in that discussion today (though if you have ideas, let me know).

What about creating rituals and our own sorts of sacred spaces?

The temple also hasn’t been this overwhelmingly, spiritual ‘space’ for me. Or maybe it has and I didn’t recognize it or couldn’t feel it or always feel that way or some other alternative explanation. But honestly, I don’t know if I have many, or any, physical spaces that have become sort of ‘sacred spaces’ for me. There are a few exceptions—Lithuania feels that way and will always carry with it some sacred sort of significance (I mean, could you live a place for two years focused on spreading the Good News and not have that place take on a sort of sacred flavor?). The Lake District is a spiritually energizing physical space (and some of the most powerful and positive experiences I had with nature, honestly). Some of the streets of Provo are beginning to have that flavor as I frequently walk them alone with my thoughts, in the dark, after watching a film or something and discussing it. The walk itself becoming a part of that ritual and key to my processing of what’s taken place. But I have yet to really establish a single, consistent space that I can go to and feel more prepared for meditation/spiritual communion/the sacred.

I want to do more to establish rituals of my own to improve my spiritual life.

I have some, I guess, but I think I need to revamp them so that they can be truly effective. I read a chapter of the Book of Mormon every night and have since I was 12 (yeah, I don’t think I’ve missed ever) and for the past 5 years have done so in Lithuanian. I write in my journal every night and have done that for 7 years (I started as a missionary and have kept the habit—sometimes I’m so tired that what I write is utterly illegible or absolutely nonsensical, but I write). I bring fruit snacks to eat during Elders Quorum. I read A Christmas Carol every year in the week before Christmas. We watch The Muppet Christmas Carol every year as a family. There’s a bunch of other family holiday stuff that is tradition, but doesn’t feel ritualistic to me. I’m hoping to make it a ritual to watch Pacific Rim and eat Little Caesar’s every January 3rd in honor of my cousin, Dallin who passed away last year. (Watching V for Vendetta on the Fifth of November or Pulp Fiction on April 20th may come close to ritual territory.)

I think some of the difficulty is that my schedule and life is at a very variable stage and I associate rituals with consistency. I don’t know. That feels like a lame excuse even as I write it. I need and want to establish some rituals, but need to think through how to imbue them with the meaning that rituals have, while allowing for the flexibility that I probably need them to at this point. And maybe I should just work on them for the now and deal with adapting them to changing life circumstances and situations as those changes happen.

I want to have more reading rituals—maybe in the morning? Something to better my scriptural study? My blogging? It has a ritual-ish feel, but I think could be better—maybe if I shift to blogging on Saturdays, but posting on Sunday? Then it could double as helping my Sabbath preparation (another thing I’ve been trying to figure out how to improve). Movie-watching? I mean, I watch OVERWHELMING amounts of films, but don’t really have a ritualistic approach to watching them. Maybe I can take up the mantle of Chris and his Cinema Sunday-ing once he’s shipped off to Boston. Some food-related rituals? Maybe a combination of things? Something to listen to the podcasts that I have? Something to play my bongos more regularly? On the streets? In the woods? From the roof of the JFSB?

Rituals strike me as a way of providing order to a sort of chaotic world. A way of finding peace and calm and communing with the divine. I think I could use more of that in my life. We probably all could. Film, literature, food, writing and other not overtly spiritual practices have been ways that I have connected to and felt the influence of the divine in my life and think that developing some sort of ritualistic approaches to incorporating them more fully into my life could be deeply enriching and enlightening.

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