Creative Rituals

“Rituals, if performed with passion and devotion, will enhance our desire and strengthen our capacity to live. New rituals will evolve but the ancient rituals and liturgies are also capable of rediscovery as we learn to make them our own.”

James Roose-Evans in Passages of the Soul

I read an article a while ago in which Lisa Kudrow told the story of her son’s bar mitzvah. Her son, 16, went to the mall to buy a game. He met some men who asked if he was Jewish. He told them half, from his mother.“That’s good,”they said and asked if he had had a bar mitzvah. He hadn’t. They asked him, “do you want to have one,” and he said “yeah.” They then proceeded to wrap tefillin around his arm and covered his head, got him to recite a prayer, and took a picture for his mom. He went home and told Kudrow about his new video game and added “Oh, yeah. And I  was bar mitzvahed.” She went on to say that “when my family heard, they were like ‘Oh, okay,’ and they wrote checks. You know, like for bar mitzvah presents.” Kudrow, not considering herself  religious, never had a bar mitzvah for her son. But her family wrote checks and gave him money as Bar Mitzvah presents, even though it was a bar mitzvah without any guests or party. There does not need be a celebration nor even a ceremony. A boy at 13 becomes obligated to observe the mitzvot, he becomes bar mitzvah. So I guess the mall ceremony was a different way of acknowledging a transitional moment. Was it an old or a new ritual?

I was not always a fan of rituals. I thought rituals were words you recited, at set times, repeatedly, because you had to. There was no real emotional involvement. Rituals were like doing something when my mom said “because I said so.” But a little critical thinking, and a lot of study, brought me to a different place. On Google, “rituals are a feature of all known human societies. They include not only worship rites, but also rites of passage, atonement and purification, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronations and presidential inaugurations, marriages, and funerals.” And might I add, daily meditation, taking a seventh inning stretch, and for me, watching Jeopardy every night.

We are at an age where so much seems to be happening so fast. Our children are getting older faster than we did, and we faster than our parents. How do we mark this passage of time, how do we face all these changes? Lisa Kudrow’s son followed an age old tradition, although not the way most of us did it, to mark his becoming bar mitzvah. We have traditional rituals, and we create new ones.

In their Harvard Business School study, Francesca Gino and Michael Norton noted the extraordinary variety of ritual: they are performed in communal settings, and in solitude; in  fixed, repeated sequences of actions, or not; and with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition, or even to make it rain. There is research that suggests that rituals can be extremely effective. They added that despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true. Many everyday rituals make a lot of sense and are surprisingly effective (though usually not in making it rain by knocking on wood).

We have rituals for many different transitional moments. We can find rituals for taking off wedding rings at the end of mourning, leaving the family home, and older adults starting cohabitation. We have access to a wealth of rituals for almost every conceivable event, and if we can’t find one, we can make one up. What do we need for an effective ritual? Different commentators have included invocation, emotion, gratitude, tradition, transformation, closure and celebration. I think when we create rituals we need to meet individual needs and circumstances. My formula is an acknowledgement of what has happened (the past), gratitude for what we have (the present), and an invention and hope for what is next (the future). Rituals may be designed to put the past behind us, and help us move forward. That’s where I come in. I can help you find or create new ritual, and I can implement it with you and any other participants you want. Let’s get together, and see what we can invent that will be meaningful and effective in helping you deal with the past, the present, or the future.

Several examples of creative rituals can be found on the Creative Rituals Resources page.