April 2022

Natural Rituals

I don’t have a case of ritual envy, I really don’t. But my neighborhood is about 40% Catholic, and during the Easter season they do this cool thing where they put posters (made by each family) out on the street – on a tree or on stakes in the ground, called “Stations of the Cross.” Maybe you know about this. I think there are 12 of them, and when Carolyn and I are on our daily walk we pass them in order (well, we start with # 4 but once we pass # 12 we are at the spot on our walk where # 1 starts). Each station depicts some part of the walk Jesus made to the cross, like #5 – Simon of Cyrene takes the cross because Jesus is too weak.

Now, these are strictly homemade, but that adds to the charm. Apparently someone organizes the participants and assigns them their station and the basic information that goes on it, but they are free to free-lance from there (for example with a note as part of the poster that says “Imagine how humiliating it would be for someone else to have to carry your cross – pray that you can accept humiliation when it comes to you”).

Isn’t that interesting? I didn’t grow up in a Catholic community, so this is new to me, but the Stations of the Cross are in fact a core ritual in several Christian traditions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stations_of_the_Cross). And although I say I don’t have ritual envy, I have to admit my mind wandered (and I woke up during the night thinking about it some more) to what a similar religious naturalist ritual might look like.

Presumably we’d do it at some cosmologically significant date like the Spring Equinox. The stations might be called “Everybody’s Story,” or as a physicist friend suggested “Stations of the Cosmos.” Each poster along the way would depict a different event in our history beginning with the Big Bang. Stations might say things like “Hydrogen Emerges” or “Our own species evolves.” Yeah, I know, it sounds kind of cheesy, but what really got me thinking was what the “prayer” portion of each station might look like. Maybe the one on the emergence of humanity would say something like “Contemplate the challenges facing our species, and think about what you can do to address at least one of them.”

Believe me, I am quite certain that many of you could do better than I could at delineating what 12 stations would be most compelling, and what contemplations would accompany them. Quite a few of you have indicated you are interested in naturalistic rituals, and that is something we work on from time to time. So if this one appeals to you, give it some of your creativity.

As for me, I already claimed I don’t have ritual envy, and I’ll try to re-convince you of that by having our music committee add this month’s song, which is one of my favorites – Peter Mayer’s “Ordinary Day” (from his album “Heaven Below”). Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=peter+mayer+just+another+ordinary+day

Finally, congratulations to our president Ursula Goodenough. She already had a PhD (Biology, Harvard) but now she will have a Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa as well – an honorary to be conferred on her on May 15 by Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Much deserved, of course, and a clear bragging point when you are telling people they ought to join the Religious Naturalist Association.

In friendship,
Michael Cavanaugh, Secretary