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Several weeks ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was on hospitality. This week we will review the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society.
Merriam-Webster defines ritual;
- a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way
- an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time
Ritual can involve words, gestures, and objects. Ritual is done in a particular sequence and in a particular place. Ritual usually is prescribed by tradition and characterized by rules. Ritual provides structure and can initiate a rite of passage. Ritual can revolve around a date on the calendar or can be commemorative.
Veterans can easily identify with ritual. In the military, ritual has its origin in customs and tradition. Customs and tradition all contribute to establishing a common identity, standards of conduct, and marking rites of passage, which are a necessary part of establishing and maintaining community and esprit de corps. Military customs and traditions are rooted in the warrior ethos of duty, honor, country, selfless service, and respect. From a recruit graduating basic training to a retirement ceremony where a warrior receives recognition for her or his years of service, ritual has its place in reminding the warrior of his or her role in service to country.
Even as a warrior returns from war, they receive a “welcome home” ceremony. The ceremony has importance for the warrior, unit, and nation. Each ceremony will be slightly different, but has the following in common;
- official formation
- recognition speech
- award ceremony
Why is this important? Often war so deeply effects the soul of the warrior that they return injured, wounded, or broken. This is why many ancient societies included purification rituals for warriors returning from battle;
- Rome, the Vestal virgins performed purification rituals for those in the Legion returning after battle
- African tribes, such as the Masia warriors, recognized that the reintegration into society post-battle required ritual expression of the move from one sphere of life to another
- Biblical instruction of Numbers 31:19-21 to purify soldiers after warfare (above taken from Warrior Transitions: From Combat to Social Contract, Shannon E. French, PhD, US Naval Academy, January 2005, JSCOPE)
- Native American cultures used the “sweat lodge” as a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place the warrior could receive repair done to the damaged spirit
These are but a few examples of how other cultures and societies put their warriors through rituals of purification prior to the warrior’s returning to their family or community. The widely held thought was that those warriors who were not purified were a danger to themselves and their communities. Possibly there may be a correlation to the destructive behavior within the US veteran community post-deployment, and a high suicide rate among veterans.
The faith community has unique strengths and capabilities to offer the veteran. In this instance, ritual can be a powerful resource toward reintegration into the community and personal healing. Because the veteran has familiarity with ritual within military customs and tradition, the ritual of the faith community may hold importance.
Some similarities in ritual look like;
- The pastor may say “the Lord be with you” and the congregation responds with “and also with you”. In the military, a lower ranking member salutes a higher ranking individual in greeting and respect and the higher ranking individual returns the salute in greeting and recognition.
- In the church, we might stand for the reading of the Gospel, where the military member rises and comes to attention for the raising and lowering of the flag.
- We may have an installation service for a pastor or congregational leader, where the military has a Change of Command ceremony that recognizes an outgoing commander for his or her accomplishments and encourages the incoming commander to care for the unit, mission and personnel.
Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the veteran and his/her family. Whether a retreat, study of holy writings, special healing service, recognition service, or in the Christian tradition, the use of the church calendar in developing liturgy, such as a Good Friday Service, contain powerful resources for hope and restoration.
Some of the rituals available to the faith community that could provide effective, powerful and transformative resources are;
- repentance and reconciliation
- cleansing and purification
As the faith community attends to their respective liturgies in ritual, we discover a dynamic interplay of the sacred story and God’s response to a broken world. At the very heart of liturgy is a journey toward healing and restoration. Liturgy can be a powerful resource as a place for recovery of the wounded soul.
Next week, we will focus specifically on the Eucharist as a means of caring for the veteran. Until then, thank you for the conversation…