From the desk of The Spiritual Explorer
Jewish Bar Mitzvah
What would religion be without ritual? Would it be just a husk that has no life within it? I pondered these questions the other day about rites and rituals. I thought what life would be like without certain ceremonies, and making substantive, a rite of passage or other special event in a life. I think that rites and rituals make something fuller and more complete. We have not reached a place inside ourselves where we can dispense with symbols and rituals and devote ourselves to purely abstract principles.
When a child in the Jewish religion turns 13 it is customary for the boy and girl to begin a course of study that culminates in a religious ceremony where blessings, readings from the Torah, music and other celebratory events contribute to this rite of passage. This Bar or Bas Mitzvah marks the event when a boy or girl begins their maturity. I remember that time well when I was a young girl and felt some innocence in me waning as I became more knowing in the world. It would have made something that felt mysterious and strange something exciting and more inclusive if I had been a part of some celebratory event. I just remember thinking I was the only one who had those feelings, a lonely thought. It makes me wonder, however, with all the panoply that goes into these rituals if the true meanings of rites of passage are remembered.
We could of course go on ad infinitum about the various rites and rituals present to celebrate christenings, births, marriages, deaths, all indicating the passage of a time, not to mention the many holidays such as Christmas, Chanukah, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, etc. There are so many things in our lives that can be marked as “special” and we indeed sometimes find ourselves amidst a flurry of things that we feel required to pay homage to.
Tibetan Tingsha Cymbals
Then how wonderful it is that we can make our own rites and rituals. These are the rituals we attach to a worship of a favorite and personal deity or spirit special to us. This can manifest uneventfully by offering a simple prayer during our day or more intricately perhaps as throwing rice into the fire, practicing meditation at sunrise, noon and sunset, offering water or flowers to a deity, chanting, lighting incense, or any other rites and rituals that we deem necessary to constitute a ritual of prayer or belief.
Hindu Ganga Water
This whole idea of rites and rituals brings me back to the sacredness I felt as a young acolyte to a pujari at the Ganga River in India in 1972. I remember looking into the Sacred River and seeing the beatific expression on people’s faces as they lifted their kurtas or robes and immersed their feet or total bodies into the Ganga. I knew that expression of lightness that came upon their faces was their knowledge that something they didn’t need in their lives was being lifted from them by one of the many holy deities that the faithful believe dance near or upon the sacred River. As I walked into Ma’s India and saw water from the Himalayas called Gangajal being offered as puja water, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be able to include it in my offerings that night.
One does not need to go all the way to the Ganga River as I did during that time. The most important thing is to be able to find that small space of sacred time in one’s day to conduct one’s own ritual. I know that when I light incense, ring a bell or tinghsa, light a candle and offer a flower or Ganga water, that is my small ritual which enables me to more easily detach from the world and feel the mysterious presence of whomever I call upon as my spiritual mentor or deity.