The Power of Ritual

This weekend, literally thousands of people connected with my alma mater, Samford University, will participate in a bizarre ritual known as “Step Sing.” Various groups – ranging from Greeks to independents to University Ministries – will dress themselves in shades of lycra I didn’t even know existed and then dance and sing an eight-minute show that revolves around a clever theme.

Step Sing

While I confess I’ve not always understood – or even liked – Step Sing, I cannot deny that I felt a profound desire to watch it this year, especially when my roommate (fellow Samford alum and Candler student Andrew Toney) suggested that we host a live-stream viewing in our living room. Aided by the twin perspectives of distance and nostalgia, I may be relearning something I always thought I knew: the profound power of ritual.

I’ve long considered myself to be a sacramental Christian. I’m used to the funny looks I get when I say words like “Eucharist,” or “chalice.” I’ve had a number of long, complicated conversations with my teetotaling Baptist brethren on the use of wine instead of watery grape juice. But it took Step Sing to teach me the real power of ritual.

Because Step Sing, despite the little changes in themes or the addition of a new group, is the same experience every year. Students involved in Step Sing disappear from more than few classrooms and generally droop around campus from mid-January to mid-February. I am irritated by this. Many professors are bewildered. Then, bam! Three nights of performance, the awards ceremony, and some lucky organization is bragging about how cool their moves are while others mumble, “next year.” It’s pretty much like clockwork, and somehow also like Eucharist.

Because the Eucharist is more or less the same every time. I know that, on most Tuesdays, someone will consecrate some bread and some wine on an altar in Canon Chapel. More often than not, I will be there, but it still happens, even when I cannot be present. Students will stream forth. Some practice intinction while others drink straight from the chalice. Many will cross themselves, but others will not. There will be a brief moment of holy chaos while everyone figures out exactly which station they wish to venture towards. Sure, there are small variations here and there, but it’s more or less like clockwork, and I’m finding that to be a beautiful thing.

When my week is dominated by the stress of paper writing (rather like this week, actually), when an incident at my Contextual Education site consumes my thought processes, when I’m trying to fit a new piece of text-critical information into my ever-broadening theological framework, the Eucharist is still there, and it’s still the same. Whatever chaos I’m dealing with as a minister and as a student, the bread and the cup represent a beautiful stability in the middle of a whirlwind.

AaronI am eminently thankful for a place like Candler, a place that makes this beautiful ritual available on a weekly basis. I am thankful for a place that continues to stretch my conceptions of God, sacrament, and just about everything else while also maintaining a place where the beautiful, dogged faithfulness of God is made known in the constancy of the Eucharist.

Thanks be to God for these lessons, and, oddly enough, thanks be to God for Step Sing.

- Aaron Carr

Aaron is a first year MDiv student from Cumming, GA, a graduate of Samford University, and a Candler Student Ambassador.

 


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