My friend, Steve Bogner, over at Catholicism, Holiness, and Spirituality, raises the issue of the importance of ritual in maintaining our joy, creativity, and spirituality. Those of us who seek to "de-institutionalize" church must wrestle with the importance of ritual and how to create it within our contexts.
First, I quote from Steve:
Why have we lost joy, why are we jaded, what are our rituals? Those are great questions. As I read blogs and various other publications I see a lack of joy and a lot of jaded talk in many of them. As I travel around the country, I definitely see a lack of joy, and lots of jaded behavior. I think traveling brings out the worst in many people. And rituals? Who has time for them!?
And so I wonder about all this lack of joy, creativity, rituals and so on. I wonder about our collective cyncisim, jadedness (is that a word?). And to me, it seems to all point back to a lack of holiness & spirituality. It seems to me that true holiness and a living spirituality naturally bring joy to our souls that radiates out to affect those around us. It brings hope, optimism and love. Ritual plays an important role in all this too - it can provide a rich environment for all this to grow and develop. The ritual of Mass and a good liturgy does a lot in reinforcing/building my spirituality. Of course, good liturgy has a lot of subjective criteria. What's good for me might not be good for you.
Ritual, as well as what Dallas Willard would call "disciplines", are building blocks for living truly spiritual and creative Kingdom lives. Without this (I agree with Steve) we will end up without joy or delight. Yet many of us have seen certain rituals become empty shells and disciplines become guilt-driven enslavement. As Steve said, this is very subjective. One ritual might be life-giving for one and death-producing for another.
All of which brings us to the question of how our non-institutionalized communities can create ritual that is life-giving and spirituality-promoting.
Believe me, I have more questions than answers on this point. I do know that we need to remain fluid. The value of simple/organic communities is that ritual can be quickly developed and just as quickly discarded for something new. We therefore have the opportunity to try to develop "right now" rituals that meet the needs of those involved-- right now. In a sense, like everything else, this becomes a community project as the collective group can define together what rituals will be life-giving for the present season of their lives.
I can see the value of taking the time to look at our existing rituals: when we gather, what we do when we gather, what we don't do. Then, since rituals go beyond "the service", I can also see us discussing how we interact with God and each other throughout the week, month, and year. This includes topics such as small group gatherings, prayer meetings of many different sorts, retreats, etc., etc. The point is to allow the community to begin to wrestle with what is collectively life-giving and then structure, yes, structure, these things into our community life.
For me, de-institutionalizing church does not mean the absence of structure. That's not possible! But it does mean developing structures and rituals that support life right now, and then being willing to carry on discussions so that structures can change as needs and opportunities change.
I see this topic as needing to be regularly introduced for discussion in our church family gatherings.