There are things in life that extinguish our human flourishing and there are things that stoke it.
When we love an object over our brother or sister, we extinguish human flourishing.
When we prioritize money over fair working conditions, we extinguish human flourishing.
When we place religious ritual over personal relationship, we extinguish human flourishing.
In the story of Jesus from the book of Mark we see Jesus address this issue.
“Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'” – Mark 2:27-28
Jesus presents two views. One orders the Sabbath as greater and humans as lesser. The other is humans (the Sons of Men) as greater and the Sabbath as lesser. One points out exactly how to create an idol out of a religious ritual and the other how to allow ritual to feed our souls and promote our personal flourishing.
Let me take one quick aside here and explain what I mean by flourishing. Flourishing is not living without pain, sorrow, or difficulty. Flourishing is not living without conflict, doubt, or questions. Flourishing is leaning into the pain, leaning into the sorrow, experiencing it, and coming out on the other side changed. Flourishing is learning to love, respect, and give grace to those around us. To flourish is to embrace both the joy and the anguish of this world, the certainty and the doubt, to find meaning more so in the questions rather than the answers.
How often do we allow rituals, meant to bring us perspective and space to think, to dominate us? How often do we bow at the alter of perfection? The alter of shame?
Growing up as a conservative Christian things like drinking and swearing were obvious sinful acts and anyone who partook was a shameful sinner. So I, not wanting to be a shameful sinner, made it a strong point to never participate in either. In fact, I became obsessed with it. Anyone I saw or knew that did swear or drink was automatically characterized in my head as lesser, weaker, sinful, perhaps even evil. It sounds harsh but it was a harsh way to view the world. These two standards, among other things, became the lenses through which I judged the world. In my mind sobriety and kind words weren’t made for humanity but humanity for them. They became my idol, my false god, the alter at which I sacrificed love, grace, and mercy.
Thank God I have had wonderful teachers and deep relationships so that I have continued to grow past this narrow view of the world.
But this leads me to a question. Do our religious (or family or cultural) rituals lead us to extinguish human flourishing or stoke it?
When we love our neighbor over our new car, we stoke human flourishing.
When we prioritize human well-being over the bottom line, we stoke human flourishing.
When we use the beautiful rituals passed down to us as a way to grow in grace, love, and mercy, we stoke human flourishing.
Indeed, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Rest was made for man, not man for rest. Or to rephrase it (if the word “made” makes you uncomfortable): Rest exists for man, not man for rest.
Work exists for women, not women for work.
Ritual exists for humanity, not humanity for ritual.
Let us see the purpose and the beauty of the traditions passed down to us but may we also see that they are meant for us, not us for them. May the depth and beauty of this world lead us to stoke rather than extinguish human flourishing through every action we choose to make.