Thursday, November 1, 2012

More than just a cup of sugar

What are the limits we should place upon ourselves in terms of borrowing or reclaiming ritual actions of other times & traditions for current Christian use? It is, I imagine, a question that would be answered in a host of different ways. Pope Benedict XVI’s desire to replace inculturation of Catholic worship with a more universalized interculturalism speaks to a narrowing of the possibilities of reaching across boundaries in a desire to make our worship richer. On the other hand, the history of the church, especially in its earliest centuries, speaks for a vast capacity for borrowing the liturgical and organizational structures of other religions. Today, in a world where Christianity has achieved (and then begun to lose) cultural hegemony, at least in the West, and where westerners have blessedly begun to be aware of the evil that is cultural appropriation, our borrowings of liturgical actions and texts must be done, if at all, with the greatest sensitivity.

This issue, among many others, challenged Emma J. Justes & Rychie Breidenstein as they began to research the possibility of creating a ritual whereby Christian women could celebrate their transition into the status of elder and to reclaim the positive value of aging. They wrote about their experience in “Finding Respect Amidst Sacred Wrinkles: Laying the groundwork for a Ritual of Reclamation” in a recent issue of Liturgy.

Among the first fifty of these, however, are books of little value in this pursuit because they mostly fit one or more of three unpromising categories: historical analysis of rituals, analysis or discussion of rituals other than Christian, or books that were written before the present century (many in the 1990s). Another search on WorldCat for “croning rituals” unearths five resources, one of which has the promising title Wising Up: Ritual Resources for Women of Faith in Their Journey of Aging, edited by Kathy Black and Heather Murray Elkins. This book offers possibilities with section titles such as, “To Dye or Not to Dye,” “Change of Life: A Flash of Insight,” and “Celebrating Change: Croning.” The same bing search, “croning rituals,” begins with multiple references to Wiccan groups and rituals. Such a dearth of materials suggests that Christian women who are seeking to find a means of reclaiming through worship and ritual the gift of aging God has built into our lives may have to start from the ground up. In other words, a communal worship that celebrates movement from one stage of life to another must be created in the local setting, for local people who choose to be involved.

In your work as a creator of ritual and liturgy, what parameters do you use when borrowing texts, actions or objects from other religious traditions?

Emma J. Justes & Rychie Breidenstein (2012): FindingRespect Amidst Sacred Wrinkles: Laying the Groundwork for a Ritual ofReclamation, Liturgy, 27:4, 51.

Emma J. Justes is distinguished professor of pastoral care and counseling at United Theological Seminary. Her book, Hearing beyond the Words: becoming a listening Pastor, was published by Abingdon Press in 2006.

Rychie Breidenstein is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and serves as adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary.

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