LETTING GO ISN'T THE LAST STEP: Why Rituals & Disciplines Still Matter

| Anne Williamson |

Few of us can swallow the religion of our childhood whole and believe it. We change, the world changes, and so we need our faith to change too. Old beliefs and patterns now feel untrue. So, we let go. Some of us rip the bandaid off; sure, the skin is red and irritated, the sticky remnants annoying, but we're happy for a "clean" break. Others of us take our time, maybe because the process is painful, or maybe because we never had any intention of letting go completely - some beliefs, rituals, disciplines still feel true to us.

Either way, we were right to let go of what we did. Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness." For those of us who let go, this is what those things of the church or synagogue or mosque or secular-but-no-less-ritualized-home or... had become: forgeries. This is okay. It's our truth.

It is also truth, though, that the things in and of themselves were never the problem; the issue was their magnification. The things were only ever meant to point us to and lead us into an experience of something real, something from which we could make meaning. It was in the forgetting of this by others, institutions, ourselves even, that they became forgeries.  

It was still right to let them go, of course; in that moment, we could only ever experience them as false. Where we faltered was in believing the letting go was the last step. That that's all that is required to find our deeply true. We forget we must continue to listen. 

This then is the irony of our situation. We let go of certain rituals and disciplines because we listened to our own deep w/Wisdom and realized they no longer pointed us to something real. But in a world that, unchecked, will fill every crack and crevice of our lives, its often ritual and discipline that are needed to listen. Without these anchors in time and space, most of us won't stop long enough for our deeply true to emerge. Without these anchors, we drift.

Disciplines and rituals are not inherently bad. They're just things. It's out magnification of them that makes them forgeries. Watch a woman kneeling at an altar, lighting candles and praying, and feel peace in her presence, and you know: it's not the kneeling or candles or prayers to which she's connecting; she's connecting to w/What or w/Whom they point. But, the kneeling and candles and prayers do serve a purpose; they remind her, help her to listen. When her life drifts or falls all the way apart, they are her anchor. They are what magnify her something real. 

You don't have to believe what the woman believes; and you don't have to kneel and light candles and pray; this isn't the point. The point is to find and live into rituals and disciplines that work for you: that help you to listen to your something real, your g/God, your own deep wisdom. Then, then, these rituals and disciplines become what they were always meant to be: just things, just tools, but ones that magnify for you what matters and thus deeply important on the journey.