Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod


It’s the end of November. In the United States we are just finishing the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the purest of our national holidays in all respects. We are entering what is euphemistically known as the “Holiday Season”, a time once used to commemorate the intersection of family and faith, now b@stardized into a commercial org@$mic frenzy. Hidden in there, somewhere, alive against all odds, lie the rituals that bind us together, bind us to some version of our past.

Rituals are different from habits. Habits are trainable, repeatable, common activities we engage consistently in the hopes of some equally consistent, common outcome. They are largely personal and exist in a tiny personal domain. No, rituals are a shared endeavor, and choice is not always a part of the program.

We call these rituals by many names; in the extended White family they are traditions. We are a family that craves such things. Do it once it’s a precedent. Do it next year and it’s a tradition. Do it yet again and however it went is now inviolate ritual. Is this good?

Some rituals are gentle, almost whimsical. They tickle us and we smile little smiles as they come and go. Others are grand, some so outsized that “grandiose” is the only apt descriptor. There is weight to these, demands that must be met, plans that must be made. Some of this weight is real, usually born of history that stretches generations into the past. Some are even pleasant.

The power of ritual to teach and to bind is part of why they persist. The power of a ritual to resist a changing world, whether macro or micro, speaks to the inherent and personal resonance of that ritual. The more internal the effect, the greater the power.The longer lived the ritual, the more resistant it is to a changing world.

Church. The family meal. Travel. Gifting. All of the trappings that surround each. Why do we do what we do, especially at this time of year? Do our rituals remind us of a history that is warm, a legacy that bears propagating? Do they teach a next generation in a way that leads us to look forward with eager anticipation? Even painful rituals such as Yom Kippur end with optimism.

Do they rather simply reinforce some something that should have faded away, been allowed to die? Something that stands in the way of a better today or tomorrow, yesterday as the anchor that drags against full sails and a bright horizon? These we should have the courage to leave behind.

‘Tis the season in which most of us face the longest-lived, most deeply entrenched rituals in our lives. Most of them are likely that way because they bind us to a warm past, teach us, re-fuel and inspire us. Whether writ large or small, these are what we should return to as we face the bombardment of a world a’changing.



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