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‘Ritual Is Poetry In Action’

Good morning.   So far so good.
Twelve days in and alcohol has still not passed my lips. My January remains dry.
I had a slight scare with a bottle of non-alcoholic beer which was not as pure as advertised… but luckily I noticed before partaking. My virtue remains unsullied.
Perhaps you’ve embarked on veeg-anuary – going vegan for the month.

Or you’ve friends on a fitness drive, trundling their frames around the neighbourhood.

Giving up plastic, giving up social media, giving up – again – the cigarettes.
A new year, a new me… this time we’re going to become the people we feel, inside, that we really are.
Three quarters of us won’t make it to the end of the year with our resolve intact. And research from two years ago reported that a quarter of us will find our resolve dissolved… within the month.

Perhaps it’s no great surprise. Our minds are like memory foam, they settle around the shape of our habits and make life very comfortable.
But if our habits give form to our lives then good habits can quietly and subtly reshape us. Draw us in a new direction.
Religions can be useful when it comes to changing direction.

For a start it’s often easier to make a change within community -a boost to know that we’re not alone in struggling to subvert some dependence or adopt a new pattern.
They also offer special seasons for trying to become a different person. Christianity has Lent, an intensive six week short course in what used to be called penitence – but might also be called re-orientation.
One Lent our household went meat-free… on weekdays.

Cautiously, slowly, trying to change our habits through trial and error. We were practising being vegetarian.
It used to be common to hear someone described as a ‘practising Christian’ – as if there was an exam coming up that you might pass or fail.
But the phrase is a good one because it’s about intent, about the direction of travel you want for your life… about how you are practising to become the person you want to be.

A healthy life grows from good habits and in religion there’s a version called ritual – from the word rite – about performance and practice, about a certain way of behaving.
Although ritual can be deadly dull, when it’s alive its repetition and rhythm is a music which can retune our habits, helping us become the people we’d like to be.

Good people…or,  at least, a little better.
Good ritual like good habit is a performance that speaks for itself. Rabbi Chaim Sterm, put it like this: ‘Ritual is poetry in action.’
Slowly and surely, over a new month, or a new year, practising good rituals and good habits becomes the practice… of a good life.

((BBC R4 Thought For The Day January 12 2019)