Tom’s Ritual

Tom the dog is no stranger to this blog. Like most Border Collies, he is highly perceptive and intelligent, as well as obsessive and sometimes a little weird. To better enjoy the warm weather, he has been furnished with a doggy paddling pool. Having black fur is not conducive to comfort on a hot day, so a bath in which to splash and wallow must come as a welcome relief.

Tom, however, has developed a little ritual. Before entering the pool, he runs around it once, then jumps in. He then jumps out and runs to the nearby flagstones which he proceeds to lick. He then repeats this motion, perhaps half a dozen times. I’m not sure why he licks the flags; perhaps the minerals do him good or the sensation is pleasant to the tongue. Quite why he feels the need to do a lap of the pool before jumping in defeats me altogether. It seems that Tom, smart as he is, enjoys the odd ritual.

Many of us create rituals. We perform little ceremonies. Some folk cross themselves when they feel they’re in danger. Others repeat particular formulaic prayers. I know one Pentecostal lady who got out of bed every morning and enacted putting on invisible body armour. When I asked why, she said she was putting on the whole armour of God, as the apostle instructed. I suggested he meant us to do this mentally and spiritually; fastening on an invisible breastplate would not itself deflect the devil’s fiery darts. Perhaps this ritual was helpful, reminding her of the need for God’s protection, perhaps it deflected the passage’s real meaning. Anglo-Catholic, Roman Catholic and Orthodox worship is highly ritualistic, distracting, in my opinion, from the plain simplicity of scriptural truth. Rituals themselves are not wrong- the Old Testament prescribes many and the Lord Jesus Himself instituted two, urging His followers to commemorate His sacrifice in bread and wine and to demonstrate their repentance and new birth through the waters of baptism. 

I’m not a fan of rituals per se, though Tom’s antics last weekend amused me. If there are little ceremonies you perform, at home or church, ensure they are meaningful and helpful, not a mindless formality. All rites and procedures are not abolished in the New Covenant, but worship should be sincere and heart-wise. Jesus thus instructed the Samaritan woman:

You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:22-24) 

A worshipper who performs rituals without meaning is worse off than a Border Collie on a hot day, carefully circling a pool and jumping in to find the water drained away.