Reflections on Ritual

Image 98Yesterday professor and author James K. A. Smith announced his move from Comment Magazine to Image Journal.  Smith was a big draw to Comment for me, so his loss there is significant.  At the same time, I’m curious to see what he does at Image, which “was founded in 1989 to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of Western culture.”  It should be a good fit for Smith, particularly as it seems like a number of other new faces are joining the journal.

Because of the move, a few people have been re-upping links to a book review that Smith wrote for the journal’s current issue.  The review dealt with two collections of short stories and a topic near-and-dear to Smith: rituals and practices.  The article allowed him to ruminate again on those topics, particularly as they are understood by people of faith. A couple of gems:

Believing is something that you do, and it’s something that you do with your body.


Recovering religion as ritual is not just another way to domesticate it or explain it away. Rather, the point is to appreciate the enchantment of our rhythms, the incarnation of devotion, the way rituals are a last tether to sacramentality that tell us something about ourselves. Even if a secular age is increasingly willing to throw overboard an array of beliefs and norms we associate with religion—precisely because we associate them with religion—we are a long way from giving up on ritual. It’s not that we’re a-religious; we just inhabit different liturgies. Our penchant for finding grooves for our longings and hopes is a backhanded witness to our enduring nature as worshipers. Homo religiosis is fundamentally homo liturgicus.

and my favorite:

Rituals are not solutions. They don’t fix things. They are how we live with what we can’t fix, channels for facing up to our finitude, the way we try to navigate this vale of tears in the meantime. But precisely for that reason they can also be conduits of hope and rhythms of covenant.

As with anything, potential pitfalls exists for ritual and routine.  But in a world, but religious and not, where such things keep passing away, it is good to be reminded of the place that such things can play in our lives . . . and how they affect us even when we don’t see them or know that they are at work.

You can read the entire book review here.  I’m sure I’ll post more about what is up with Mr. Smith when new things get posted and shared.

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