The Shack Part Three

The Shack, Part Three

"Nothing is Ritual" and a bit about Music

Now, look, I realize this little bit about music may be a trivial issue, but the author certainly felt inclined to include it somewhat prominently and so I feel inclined to comment upon it.

The scene in the book has "Papa" (aka God the father) dancing about the kitchen while listening to some music being played over a headset He/She is wearing. I cannot recall if the text notes if God was using an iPod. Mack is curious as to what sort of music God is listening to and is informed that it is some strangely named genre (which may or may not be fictional...forgive me I am chronically unhip and I already returned the book to the library) from a band whose members had "not yet been born." Mack is taken aback - again having his preconceptions dashed - that God is not listening to something of a religious nature. "Papa" informs Mack of His/Her love for all people and in particular the rowdy, rambunctious, and angry boys who make up the band. We are also informed that the boys have good reason to be upset about the world around them.

Now stop for a minute. I realize this is really written for those Christians who insist that we ought to only listen to Christian music and that secular music ought to always be avoided. Fine, I get it. But, I am a little leary of the words here put into God's mouth. A good portion of the book has God explaining to Mack how our perception of "rights" are all wrong and backwards, which is fascinating stuff. And from the overall feel of the book one cannot imagine The Shack's God dancing about to a song Mack might write about executing revenge upon his daughter's killer. And yet God is somehow entertained by the rambunctious boys who make hip music expressing their discontent with the world? There seems to be an irrational and unfair dichotomy here.

And really, before we dismiss the "simple-minded" Christian who refuses to listen to secular music, let us consider that they actually do have some valid points about avoiding some particular artistic expressions. There is Scriptural, Traditional (from the Fathers and Mothers of the Church), and common sense reasoning for being discerning about what you allow to be filled into your head. Don't underestimate the senses ability to sear things into your brain. There's my public service announcement and I'll move on.

At least twice God informs Mack that "Nothing is Ritual." Now this is a statement that is ripe for interpretation and I suspect the author could mean many different things, if for no other reason than because "ritual" itself can mean many things. But generally we take it to mean a prescribed method or procedure for doing something usually with regular repetition implied.

Of course nothing is more ritualistic than a liturgical church service. I don't know
for sure if The Shack's God is therefore dissing on liturgy, but I am relatively sure that the spirit of what the author is trying to get across is one of freedom and newness. A life movement that is ever new, ever changing, and ever free of preconceptions. And so, in a way the repetitive "monotony" of Orthodox life may seem to be the polar opposite.

Unfortunately, I would suggest God could just as easily have said: "Everything is Ritual." Consider everything in the world, including your everyday life as it is...I think you'll see rather quickly that we are all about ritual. Life is ritualistic...indeed the very nature of life is one of ritual in that like begets like. And our dance of life is full of the same steps that our parents took and as we get older we realize more and more that we are indeed repeating their life steps and this becomes even more abundantly clear once you beget more life (aka have kids). Our heart, the nearly universal symbol of our love, our desires, and our being is in a perpetual state of ritual. We eat ritualistically. We drink ritualistically. We shower ritualistically. If we are improper Orthodox we shave ritualistically (hehe). We go to work ritualistic. We get our coffee ritualistically. We do our jobs and our house chores ritualistically. We raise our kids ritualistically. We celebrate all manner of things ritualistically. The sun and moon rise and set ritualistically, the seasons change in a great and rich ritualistic orchestration. Animals (as we have learned first hand on our little farm) live highly ritualized life. I could go on forever....the world around us is clearly one great big ritualistic dance with precious little being new under the sun. Is it mundane? Is it monotonous? Well, these things have nothing to do with reality, they are states of mind. Might I suggest God could also say "Nothing is mundane" or "Nothing is boring" or even "Anything can 'work for you'" or "Somethings that bore you might really be good for you." Ritual can actually speak to can teach and lead is a means of ongoing paradosis of which the world is and ever has been full.

Perhaps our job (which, yes, does imply work) is not to try and avoid ritual (GOOD LUCK), but rather to impregnate the world's ritual with meaning...or more accurately to open our eyes to the meaning of the world's ritual - impregnated with that meaning by God Himself, especially through His incarnation. I know I've blabbed about this many times before, but the cycle of Orthodox life, while perhaps appearing to be dead ritual to outsiders, is in actuality a tried and true means of celebrating and seeing the impregnation of meaning in the world's natural ritual. It is like adding dancing to music.

For my part: from this insightful book The Shack, I take a renewed willfulness to open my eyes to the reality of life. To WORK for these rituals to fill me with joy, love, and life as the repetitive dance of life goes on and on...and hopefully I am able to pass this on to my kids.

Everything is ritual...and God, I think, saw that is was good.

Up next: Sophia, the wisdom of God...and some final ramblings on The Shack


Anonymous said…
Dear James,

God listening to music...interesting image. I may read this book after all. As my friend, the Maestro says in his thick, Jewish accent, "Mike, der iz only two kindz of musik...good and bad."

In terms of playing music, I think you can do it as a form of divine ritual or not. I must say that the times I have felt closest to God have been those rare moments when I have been soloing on "All Blues," or "Blue Train," or "Satin Doll." Reminds me of the line from "Chariots of Fire" when one of the characters is asked why he runs. His response is that when he does he feels God's pleasure. I think that's the key thing to remember for Christians, particularly those involved in creative you feel God's pleasure when you're painting, writing poetry, sculpting, throwing a pot, or playing jazz on your 40-year-old Conn trombone with some good pals? If not, think about what you're doing, or stop.

Best regards,

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