Hooray! Thanksgiving is almost here. It’s a holiday filled with tradition and ritual, whether it’s an old family recipe for sweet potatoes, a certain football game that must be watched or a special prayer service at one’s church or synagogue. Tradition gives holidays warmth and joy.
At my Thanksgiving table, I will light the candles, sit down with my family and repeat an ancient blessing. We will probably all be holding hands — the children will insist. And then — as though to remind me to respect our rituals — my little granddaughter will lean over and whisper rather loudly: “Grandma, it’s ah-men, not a-men.
My family comes from a long line of Christian Scientists. As such, we tend to think of our church as a ritual-free zone, but of course it is not. It holds regular services, to the minute. The order of those services is prescribed: Three hymns are sung at every service and on and on. Useful rituals and traditions, to be sure.
Every religion has its rituals, some more than others. The Quakers, the Methodists — even the Congregationalists — are stunned by the volume and depth of, for example, Catholic and Jewish ritual. Maybe not without a twinge of envy: “It seems to mean so much to them.”
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I hear many in the ritual-intense religions say that the repetition of the familiar can lead you to an openness to the divine. I have seen this in the Jewish services — millennia-old religious practices bringing modern worshippers to a present openness. It works. And if you tend to doubt the importance of ritual in worship, just see what happens when you attempt to change even a minor element. All hell breaks loose, so to speak.
The discussion at the Ministerial Association regular meeting last Wednesday reminded me that ritual and habit are not the same. When meaningful ritual becomes mere habit, it ceases to nourish and inspire. And make no doubt about it: Inspiration is what we are all looking for — fresh inspiration, if at all possible.
There is an old-timey hymn I just love, with a tune by Henry Purcell, lilting and joyful: “Make channels for the streams of love, where they may broadly run; And Love has overflowing streams, to fill them every one.”
We need to be making those channels and let love run. This doesn’t mean religious differences don’t matter. Au contraire. And here is a mystery for you. The more I have listened intently to understand others — or endeavored to speak of the hope that is within me — the more clearly I have seen the specifics of my own religion stand out in beautiful relief for me. I dare say this is what seems to be taking place for all who endeavor to build bridges of understanding with other faith traditions: a deeper understanding and respect for the treasures of their own.
That is the process I have seen taking place in the dialogues and friendships of our local Ministerial Association. Be clear: The goal is not to become one amorphous mush of a religion as we all become “one.” Good thing, as that is not about to happen. What we are seeing is an appreciation of the diverse approaches to the divine.
If you and your family would like to enjoy some very diverse and joyous ways of thanking God this Thanksgiving season, come to the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration that the Ministerial Association provides each year for our community. This year’s celebration is at the Christian Science Church on Garden Street in San Luis Obispo. We will be rocking with rich, gorgeous diversity — the kind that God loves.
Come and enjoy.
The Ministerial Association of San Luis Obispo invites the public to a free Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Christian Science Church, 1326 Garden St., San Luis Obispo. Child care is available, and there will be refreshments and fellowship after the service. A free-will offering will be accepted and donations of food items will be collected. For more information, email the Rev. Rich Kurrasch at email@example.com.
Carol McFall is member of the Christian Science Church in San Luis Obispo and a past president of the Ministerial Association of San Luis Obispo.