A Ritual Common to Them

Through years of experience, through the development of routine, through practice and reference to the conventional wisdom of our elders, our leaders, our supervisors and the priests of the common culture we acquire set patterns of behavior which become natural response to circumstances and need.  Our national culture is influenced by what sells in 15 seconds, our community culture defined by our history and local language and our standards of conduct are informed by popular media and our basic hungers. What a potent mix of traditional values and contemporary urges.  Liberty has become license and only the restraining power of the force of arms or threat of incarceration hold back the tide of self inflicted on others.

But, we Americans also have “the book” and a history of respect for God and man, yes?  We worship on Sunday and pay our regards to the God we know through our attendance at our sanctuaries and our heartfelt prayers.  Who dare question the integrity of our lives of piety? We freely admit our love of our heavenly father. We stop to listen to the oft-spoken prayers and bow our head and say Amen.  The commandments speak true, we nod our head in assent.

And yet, the torn man sits by the road begging, and the child eats empty meals for breakfast.  The widow, not abandoned by death, but by man’s choice, tends to her young lads and weeps while nearby the highways gleam with late- model cars, carrying each commuter to their safe place of work, or back to the patios, microwaves and well-stocked freezers of home.

A story is told of a day long ago, of a gathering on a hill, two worldviews competing.  The conventional wisdom of the day exposed by an odd man with an odd challenge.  Elijah (found in 1 Kings 18) represented the Living God and answered God’s call in pointing out the futility of conventional thought and acceptable worship. When those followers of Baal expected their god to speak, they did all they could to ensure his response.

“O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

27-28 By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.

What rituals common to us will be used to wake the sleeping gods and those on vacation?  What reminder does the overly-involved god need to be summoned at our request?

Could it be that our cultural icons and vacationing deities will never respond, never fulfill, never satisfy?  Or could it be that we just haven’t worked hard enough to get them to get involved in our project, our concerns and desires?  Perhaps we are not yet covered with blood?

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