I like ritual. During this trip I've had the fortune of experiencing rituals ranging from afternoon tea to being bathed by an older gentleman at a Hamam. Though some of these rituals push the edges of my comfort zone it still brings me to the realization that I appreciate the concept of rituals in my life.
Abbie and I ended up at The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known to folks from the States as The Blue Mosque, today just in time for the mid afternoon call to prayer. It was amazing hearing the Adhan called out by the Muezzin from the towering minarets all around us, as we watched crowds of worshipers make their way into the mosque. I guess our Americanism stuck out as we were approached by a member of the mosque staff and offered a free lecture on Islam in english, I’m typically a bit hesitant when it comes to strangers offering free stuff while traveling, but they really hooked us with the free snacks! After a nice refresher on the pillars of Islam, Abbie and I were the only two left with the lecturer discussing some of the finer points of Islam, some defensive language may have been used on both sides, but it was a good discussion in the end, which got me thinking about ritual.
I have a bit of an issue with religion, I don’t hide it, there have been countless atrocities committed in the name of religion i.e. The crusades,The Armenian Genocide, Witch trials, religious persecution of homosexuals, Native American genocide, slavery… The list goes on and on. But for the most part I believe that religion is a necessity that thrives on the bases that people yearn for community and ritual, which in itself can be a pretty great thing. The trouble seems to come when isolationism and hierarchy create an Idea of otherness and concocted superiority. But when you get down to the base needs of what religion provides is connection and familiarity.
I look back on my formative years in Florida and I realize that I felt out of place from middle school up till college. I tried my hand at football, wrestling, youth group and a plethora of other group activities, which somehow never quite provided me that sense of connection to my true self. I always felt on the periphery of these well established groups that seemed to want me, but seemed to want me to become them. It wasn’t until I started claiming spaces and starting rituals of my own that I truly started to feel connected.
It began with Midnight Mass, I spent most of my late teens into my mid twenties spreading the good word about mass. Most folks understandably assumed I was a catholic missionary, when in reality I was preaching the good news of a weekly two wheeled hoard roaming the baron streets of downtown Jacksonville, screaming “ride bikes” into the early morning air. This was an experience I yearned for every week, the familiarity of dozens and occasionally hundreds of reflectors greeting me on the steps of the Cummer Museum at 11:30pm ready to own the nearly car free streets for a few hours. Seeing the creativity that newcomers brought with their bike mods; bikes welded on bikes to create tall bikes, blenders powered by peoples back wheels for fresh bike margs, hooking up car batteries to massive speakers to DJ our sometimes reckless adventures.
Anyone could join mass, we would almost always have newcomers, some just came to hang out in front of the museum before the ride, where some of the best memories were made. Some didn’t have a bike so folks would run home and grab a spare or someone would just hop on someones pegs or handlebars. Sometimes folks would see us biking past a bar and join in and some would break off to go dance at the bar, and it was rare that we ever had a plan of where we were going, or that if we did that we would make it there. Midnight Mass was a weekly ritual that offered a meeting place, something familiar enough to feel comfortable but could spin off to a hundred different directions. You didn’t know if you were going to get a flat tire, but you knew there were a handful of bike mechanics that would get you rolling again, you didn’t know when you were getting home or who you were going home with, all you could know for sure is a bunch of folks were going for a bike ride.
I think I like the idea of ritual because it more or less gives you a familiar jumping off point. You know the basic steps and you can get into that nice cozy comfortable headspace that lets you know your safe. The trick is being willing to take that cozy space and build on it, take a step outside of it, or sometimes completely destroy and reinvent it. Without progress ritual can turn into addiction, addiction that yearns for a feeling that can never be sustained and can isolate one person or group from another. I am so grateful for the rituals I’ve gotten to experience around the world and the people who were open enough to share them with me. I’m excited to bring some back to the States with me to share with friends and maybe even tweak a few!
Vienna Coffee House
Cheers in different cultures
Halloween on the danube
call to prayer
Shoes off slipper time