As you know I love ritual. Not just for the pomp and ceremony, but I love it because of its power and vitality, for the fact that it connects us to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves, intensifies the moment, and can have such a deep meaning that we are transformed, and transported in delight.
I was watching a video recetly which had several recorded events of the hongi. The hongi is the ancient traditional Maori greeting, and is done by a gentle pressing of one’s nose and forehead to another persons nose and forehead. The ‘ha’ (breath of life), also seen as one’s soul, is then exchanged. Then the visitor, the ‘manuhirim’ is no longer a visitor but, wonderfully becomes a ‘tangata whenua’, one of the people of the Land.
As the video progressed, one act of hongi stood out from amongst the others. This person, a westerner, probably nervous and feeling out of place, went a long a line of Maori people, touched nose to nose, but at breakneck speed. The act was performed, but that person had forgotten the true meaning of the hongi, and so missed out on ‘something’. It was, sadly, rather shallow. There was no real meaning, no depth, no transformation, no sharing of the ‘ha’, the breath of life.
Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. Remembering is so important. And when involved in ritual, and when remembering we go deep(er) and may be transformed, we enter sacred-time and sacred-space and encounter. Things, then are different.
The challenge, today, is that instead of going deep we are encouraged to operate at a shallow level. It seems to be the way of the world.
‘People care much more for how things look than how things are.’ Donna Lynn Hope
I have been to some fine ceremonies. Last Christmas, for instance, I was at an event where we sang wonderful tunes and awesome words, recited meaningful words from a bygone age, listened intently to a transforming story, and then afterwards I sipped coffee with the congregation. I was still in the ‘liminal zone’, but others around me were not. I’m not judging them because on other occasions I’m probably in their shoes, and maybe you have been, too? It happens.
After that ceremony those near me talked about the weather and their rhumatism, the need to leave early to start cooking the Christmas turkey, they talked about a several-hour car journey to visit a relative, and one remarked that the minister was wearing a rather fetching stole.
‘Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.’ Christopher Reeve
Ritual is important, because it slows us down. In ritual we remember. But, those around me may have misunderstood the nature of the ceremony we had just witnessed, and had forgotten. It is here that ritual and stories come in useful, because through stories we remember.
There is an ancient story, one that we heard at that service, that includes the words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me…’. When I hear those words it’s like warm honey being poured down my spine – they are awesome and have moved me to tears on occasions. In them is power and love, invitation and joy. In them we remember.
In thinking of those words, we can view them merely from an academic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Go deeper. We can view them as words said by the One some two thousand years ago, and look back from a historical, ‘legal’ or dogmatic point of view. There is nothing wrong with this, but there’s more. Many in that congregation seemed to stop there – many do, and so miss out. Many stop at a shallow understanding of ritual and ceremony and story, but there is more. Go deeper.
When those words – and it could be other words and events that we ecnounter – are spoken or encountered they are deeper than deep. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ is so significant because the ‘remembering’ is anamnesis!
Remembering is important. Anamnesis is so important.
In its weakest sense, and common today, anamnesis it is merely remembering an act, and carrying it on in the absence of the originator. It’s a looking back along that distant horizontal time-line. Oh, how the spirit of this age wants us to quickly move on to something else, so we miss the depth.
‘In the depth of my soul there is a wordless song.’ Kahlil Gibran quotes
There’s more for those who want to go deeper, and who really want to benefit.
In its deepest, purist sense, and the one I would encourage you to engage with, anamnesis has a vertical connection. It (ritual, ceremony or story etc) ‘lifts’ us off the normal time-line, and upward to the higher realm. Not just an act, but a participation; not with an absent host but one who is ever-present; not looking back in time, but living in continual ‘nowness” of the event; not earthly, but cosmic.
An example of anamnesis can be read in a previous article entitled, The Telling Place: Ritual And Anamnesis. (See here)
Anamnesis in ritual, in our times of meditation and quiet, in our services and ceremony is a ‘transporting’ back or coming into full partcipation with the event in mind – it is the time-frame you and I are living in, being superimposed over some major event so that the two are happening together.
Synchronous. Participation. Transformation.
My encouragement to you is: Don’t miss out, but to go deeper, and resist the spirit of the age to remain shallow. Go deeper, and revel in anamnesis, true remembering and true participation. True encounter. Liminal, not liminoid.