Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Importance of Ritual

Last week there was a news item (and a blog post by Angel) about the demotion and forced retirement of a Tennessee Air National Guard colonel and the punishment of several senior enlisted people who participated in a reenlistment ceremony in which the reenlistee - a senior noncommissioned officer - took her oath of enlistment using a dinosaur hand puppet. As many people noted, this was gross disrespect of a serious military tradition which acknowledges the life-and-death consequences of military service. As an Air Force officer, I conducted many reenlistment, promotion, and retirement ceremonies over the years, including administering the commissioning oath to my own son, and I was greatly offended by these actions of people who should have known better.

But this tawdry incident brings me to an interesting related topic: the role of rituals in our lives. For this, I call your attention to this 2013 article by Donna Henes, in which she notes that

"Ceremonial observance adds lucid layers — depth, dimension, drama and distinction — to our lives, making the ordinary seem special, and the special, extraordinary."

There's a reason we have rituals for important events in our lives, such as marriages, funerals, military commissioning and enlistments, and school graduations - they provide a solemnity and an opportunity for reflection that underscores the seriousness of significant events. Religions rely on various rituals, of course, as a way of connecting with the power of the unknown and the Almighty, but there are many important secular rituals as well - such as presidential inaugurations, graduations, military parades, the awarding of a driver's license, selection for promotion at work, and so on. The rituals surrounding such events are intended to emphasize their importance.

Of course, there are rituals and there are rituals. Sir Stephen, the amoral libertine who abused the title character in Story of O, noted that "I have a fondness for habits and ritual" ... ritual, of course, of a more carnal nature than those with which most of us are familiar. And ritual plays a central part in the Sherlock Holmes mystery "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual."

And, of course, in today's America, if you're ritual have a much better chance of being elected to office.

Sorry about that.

Have a good day, and observe all necessary rituals. More thoughts tomorrow.



Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Well-presented; thanks!

Mike said...

I had to read that pun twice and even then needed the 'sorry about that' to have it sink in.

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

You read The Story of O also? I thought I was the only one. That book was sordid.