Why We Need Ritual

Our lives are rich and full of complex, deeply layered meanings, but it’s easy for us to lose touch with that richness and complexity. We get tangled in the demands of the everyday. Authentic ritual affirms our connectedness to one another and to the wellsprings of our life. It can help us open up to a more profound awareness of the amazing, infinite adventure of our finite, precious time on this earth.

We live in a goal-oriented culture that demands results and values quick, easy answers. Our drive for success and individual prestige sidelines our capacity for wonder, awe, and playfulness. We all live with the consequences. Our sense of ourselves can get flattened. We can lose touch with the miracle of our existence. We can lose touch with the miracle of each other.

Ritual is a nearly universal human response to such pressures. In our modern, secular society, some still find respite and renewal in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. Some find it in the rituals of team sports. (Think of the outpouring of communal euphoria around the Olympics.) We make much of weddings. Maybe we know someone who’s made the trek to Compostela, or gone to Jerusalem or Mecca, to Dharamsala or Varanasi.

But “ritual” has negative associations for many. The rituals we do encounter sometimes feel hollow and leave us confused or dissatisfied. Funerals are notorious on this score, and lots of us have very mixed memories of confirmations, bar mitzvahs, and other early experiences. Some of us wouldn’t dream of setting foot inside a religious institution, and often for good reason on the basis of personal history.

As gay or bisexual men, we’re in double jeopardy. For much of our lives, we may have found ourselves shut out from full access to even the very limited amount of good, satisfying ritual practice that modern life offers.