Piggy-backing on the previous post, I’m ruminating on the notion of liminality and communitas. It occurred to me that in Michael Frost’s beautiful explanation of these concepts from Victor Turner that it was in the context of ritual/ceremony that this idea developed. In Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, Frost moves toward application in secularized circumstances. In other words, any harrowing or adventuresome group experience might catalyze communitas. Examples were given of rights activists and church mission trips creating communitas. Carl Starkloff wrestles with these same anthropological concepts in his article “Church as Structure and Communitas: Victor Turner and Ecclesiology” (Theological Studies v. 58 (Dec. '97) p. 643-68). Starkloff brings a Catholic perspective on the same topic and thus has a heightened sensitivity to the value of ritual.
My background is thoroughly Evangelical Baptist, thus the element of ritual has always been minimized unless we were talking about Wednesday night fried chicken. Americans (and Westerners in general), for a long time, neglected the importance of rituals and ceremonies in everyday life. Even the church has worked very hard at minimizing or commercializing our symbolically-rich ceremonies. The rituals that are observed have been reduced to an express version of the former. Funeral ceremonies have become lighter life celebrations. Wedding ceremonies are lightning fast and then its on to the reception. The rich symbolism is hardly given a second thought.
In this void of meaningful rituals and celebrations, individuals and groups are scrambling to create their own or dig them up from obscure corners of history. Among the ritual ideas proposed by Carole Kammen and Jodi Gold (Call to Connection: Bringing Sacred Tribal Values into Modern Life, 1998) are ceremonies for a woman’s first menstruation or the return to singleness after a divorce. They also submit ideas for ritualizing Christmas and Thanksgiving. (Kammen and Gold, 215) Isn’t it remarkable that people have to create rituals for Christmas because all they see is frenetic gift-buying and commercial hype?
Kammen and Gold demarcate a void in our culture. Their solutions, however, come off as cheaply manufactured imitation ceremonies. The fun might be as long-lasting as the novelty of a theme-party. Once it is over, it is time to move on. They are attempting to reintroduce forms without the meaning.
Evangelicals have taken the opposite approach, locating the focus squarely on the meaning devoid of ritual form. Monological exhortations (“sermons”) have become the primary focus in the primary gathering of the church. Even in churches that still celebrate the sacraments in ritual manner, the deep sense of awe and mystery seems noticeably underwhelming. It has become too staid and thus no longer a ritual that demands communitas.
This has become a meandering line of thinking. So, to rein these thoughts back in, how do we celebrate in ritual the rich meanings of Christ in forms that spur us toward liminal experiences and theretofore communitas?