Connecting with tradition: The power of community ritual

Today, as part of an interfaith visiting group, I visited and attended a synagogue, a Jewish Shabbat service, for the first time.
And I was amazed at the strength of the tradition, and it made me realize this is a very powerful thing that is really missing for a lot of us.
And it’s one area where the Jewish tradition is very strong, and you can see this- it’s not about the content of their tradition.
There are other traditions.
But simply the fact that they have such a strong tradition that is maintained has its own power.
So, when it comes to the details and the content of those traditions, I mean, that’s where- that’s all the sticky details.
That’s where people fall away from the tradition for various reasons.
And there are all kinds of legitimate objections to many traditions, and many parts of many traditions.
But there’s something good.
What is it? A sense of depth, a sense of- just like one of the the big parts of meaning and the meaningful life is feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves.
And this tradition is such a thing.
To be part of a way of being that reaches back centuries gives a very strong sense of groundedness and connection, so that our individual lives are nested and installed inside something that is much bigger.
Now, we have pieces of this in the Western tradition which I grew up in.
But I grew up in the 20th century modern Western tradition, a big part of which is the rejection of most of its traditions.
So we’re kind of living on the leftovers of ancient traditions.
But when I see ancient traditions preserved and maintained alive through continuing the ritual, continuing the teachings, continuing the practices, year after year, it really maintains the traditions in a way that, while we learn about them historically, and the Western traditions are a part of making our world the way it is now, but the idea of following these regular rituals, of all agreeing and coming together as a community over these principles, that sense of cultural cohesion, community cohesion, a spiritual cohesion, is clearly missing in the modern Western environment.
Now, we reap many of the advantages of rejecting tradition, to be able to break free and make new things, and that is a wonderful thing.
By being- we are free of the negative aspects of tradition.
We are able to make our own way and create new traditions, and that’s very powerful.
But something has been lost.
Something has been taken too far in the rejection of tradition and the embrace of total novelty, that we lose this connection with the past, with the depth of tradition that takes centuries to grow.
So what can we do about this? Well, I would say there’s two- I’d say two approaches come to mind.
One being to take elements from existing traditions.
Even if we do not subscribe to them in totality, we can take elements from existing traditions and use them as we see fit.
Sometimes this is cast in a negative light, the idea of, like, picking and choosing, appropriating, the cafeteria approach.
But I don’t see it that way.
I see we can learn from everything that has come before us.
We can learn from everything that anybody is doing.
This is all open to us to learn from.
So we can take these pieces of tradition, and we can connect- we can have connection in some way to that depth of time through these pieces of tradition that we choose to embrace and carry forward.
And the second way, of course, is to make new traditions.
Even though it doesn’t have that same immediate sense of the depth that only time can bring, we can begin new traditions, and by by connecting ourselves to those traditions, connecting ourselves to culture and community and spirit through these connections, through these traditions, we can still get this effect.
We can still bring out the power of traditions.
Every tradition starts somewhere.
And if we don’t have a full tradition set up, if we feel that sense of being isolated and atomized in the world, where we are unrooted and floating like a leaf in the breeze without being plugged in to tradition, maybe we’re happy with that because we don’t like any of the traditions we see, but we can then- we have this ability to make something new that can become a tradition and can carry forward into the future something that will be bigger than ourselves, something we can connect to to provide meaning and joy in our lives.
So I’m very curious to see what kind of new traditions can come out the other end of this hypermodern world.

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