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Things fall apart; it’s scientific.
-David Byrne

Entropy. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

I’ve been ruminating on this essay from Big Questions Online which is subtitled “How does religious ritual preserve humanity from chaos and entropy?” The author’s position is that ritual (e.g. religious liturgy) allows us to create a holy space in order to “oppose the onrush of chaos in the name of life”. As if there is on the one hand, chaos, and on the other hand, life. And that this holy space that is created through ritual separates us from chaos for the sole purpose of, well, separating us from chaos and maintaining our uniqueness.

Rinse, spin and repeat.

The image above represents, for lack of a more technical term, a star factory, and it is located in the Milky Way galaxy, our galactic home field. One would be hard-pressed to find a more chaotic place in our little corner of the universe but out of this wildly violent and chaotic enterprise new stars are right now being formed, ignited and placed in the night sky for all of us humans to enjoy whilst lounging about on a grassy hill enjoying a Shakespeare play on a summer night.

So I am a bit perplexed by the author’s almost nihilistic perspective with regard to entropy writ large while ignoring the mind-boggling creativity that arises from local eddies in the cosmic stream like the star factory. If the purpose of sacred ritual is to “oppose the onrush of chaos in the name of life”, then are we to stand opposed to the forces and the processes that gave rise to our star factory? In doing so, would we not be in opposition to the forces of creation itself? And if through the processes originated in the star factory a planet eventually evolves that supports life, would we not have opposed (in the name of life) the very forces that gave rise to life? We are not apart from existence and we are not apart from the chaos and the creativity associated with it. We participate in existence as sentient beings and regardless of our spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, in some fashion we will continue to participate in it after we die even if it is only a matter of our ashes being mixed with earth and rain water.

Instead of being used as a method for disengagement, sacred ritual should prepare us to fully participate in existence. Who are we to attempt to untangle nature? For those inclined to theism I would ask, who are you to question the cosmology in which your divinity creates (or that your divinity created)? Sacred rituals should create a space for us as individuals and as a community but this space should not be a place for hiding nor should it serve as a simple shelter from the difficulties of life. And it certainly should not be a space in which we triumphantly revel in our uniqueness. Instead, sacred rituals call us to fully engage our lives by deflating our overblown egos, dismissing our unhealthy projections and bringing ourselves to a state of mindfulness. Here we restore balance, we recognize ourselves as part of the human community, we see our neighbor as ourselves and we open ourselves to and enable ourselves to participate in the power of creativity that lies within what we perceive as chaos. Here we move toward fullness of being. Liturgy is defined as “the work of the people”. This is our work and it may be the most important thing we do as humans.

So maybe it’s not the ritual acts of the Judeo-Christian world that are increasingly a mystery to modern man, as the author laments. Maybe it’s their underlying intent.