When I awaken these days, I understand more clearly than in the not-so-distant past the solace in ritual. Ritual offers comfort. Carefully practiced ritual grants predictability and uniformity in times of chaos. Ritual provides at least a temporary protective shelter from one’s sense that an angry cosmos—furious at humanity for its monstrous efforts at self-destruction—seems bent on usurping humanity’s suicidal tendencies by drowning us in disruption and savagery. Ritual calms frayed nerves and tender memories buried and bruised by ugly realities.
For instance, this morning I awoke to commence what has become my morning ritual:
- Weigh myself;
- Record my weight;
- Make a cup of coffee;
- Scan the southeastern sky, just to look and appreciate it;
- Begin to prepare breakfast, in anticipation of my wife waking up.
Today’s ritual involved more than the usual routine, in that I made miso soup. Making a miso soup breakfast is a ritual in an of itself, at least the way I make it. First, I take a large pot from the pot-rack and put it on a burner on the stove. I carefully measure the proper amount of water (lately, two and one-half cups) into it. I turn on the burner, then take the container of miso paste from the refrigerator and, using a soup spoon, scoop roughly two tablespoons of miso paste from the container and drop it into the water. As the water warms, I cut a large chunk of firm tofu and slice and dice it into half-inch cubes and drop them into the water. Next, I slice several mushrooms and drop them into the pot. I slice a scallion into thin rings and put them in a tiny bowl. I then cut several radishes into quarters and place them into another tiny bowl, paying careful attention to their appearance; radishes have to look just “so” in order to serve their proper, calming effect with morning miso. I pour just a bit of dry wakame into a bowl and add a tiny bit of water; almost immediately, it begins to hydrate; I drain the water off, then pour the now-hydrated wakame into the miso soup.
This morning, I deviated from my usual routine in that, in addition to the miso soup and radishes and sliced scallions, I opted to slice a hard-boiled egg in half and put both halves on the table in another tiny bowl, next to the scallions and radishes. I can imagine that, too, will become part of the miso morning ritual.
As is my custom, I have deviated from my intended topic, ritual, down the rabbit hole of breakfast procedures. Perhaps even that is my ritual. At any rate, back to ritual. These series of steps that I follow on many mornings tend to help me stay together, as in remain in one piece, without blowing apart into a million fragments of rage and disgust and molten fear. When I realize the way I use ritual to enable me to pretend there is order when, in fact, there is none, I begin to feel as if I’m uncovering a hidden (or perhaps not-so-hidden) truth about religion. Religion, ultimately, is ritual that’s codified and brewed into the social fabric of communities. I doubt religions arose out of imperialistic designs but, rather, out of the desire for comfort and predictability. But just as rituals can morph into (or form the basis of) obsessive-compulsive disorders, religion can transform from means to seek comfort to efforts to seek control.
And, so, there it is again; I am both intrigued and terrified by ritual. When does a ritualistic offering become a ritualistic sacrifice? At what point does the comfort of ritual become a cage from which there is no escape?
This is the sort of topic of conversation I would find interesting, amusing, and enlightening. But the danger is that, in conversation, it tends to take on a more serious tone than I care for, as if the raconteur believes his stories are more consequential than he has reason to think.
And that leads to a final thought this morning; serious topics need not be steeped in solemnity, nor must they omit frivolity. Ritual, in any form, must be open to fracture because, as Leonard Cohen so aptly put it, “that’s how the light gets in.”