If ever there was a loaded word in this day and age, it is "ritual." Depending on the context and on one's own experience, this can connote comfort or distress, our deepest beliefs or our hardest cynicisms. Without delving too deeply, may I offer three ways we can make rituals bad things, and three ways we can make them good things?

We can make rituals bad things when . . .

1. We use them to stop thinking about the deep meanings behind them. How sad when their regularity cause us to lose the wonder associated with what they are to represent.

2. We use them to give ourselves a false sense of piety. Even sadder when we delude ourselves into thinking that devotion can be boiled down to whether or not we do some outward rite or participate in some man-led activity.

3. We use them to make others feel excluded. Saddest of all when we use rituals to draw a bright line around ourselves, reveling in our "inside" status while leaving everyone else on the outside wondering what our words and rites mean.

We can make rituals good things when . . .

1. We use them to build the regular habit of thinking about whatever weighty things they are intended to point us to. Rituals, after all, are meant to represent something worth meditating on regularly.

2. We use them to connect ourselves to something bigger and older than we are. Rituals are also meant to serve as bridges to generations past, who also partook of the same routines as we did.

3. We use them as teaching opportunities for our kids. When they ask us why we do what we do, we can include them in #1 and #2 above.

The faith I see described in the Old Testament is one of ritual. For some in the present day, that ritual is comforting, while for others it is cause for scorn. Let us neither automatically accept or dismiss the rituals in our midst, but consider how we can use them for bad and good, and make choices today to say no to the bad reasons and yes to the good ones.

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