Religious rituals sometimes uncover otherwise masked personal emotions or social injustices.
Ramadan is a Muslim time of fasting intended to spiritually prepare oneself for public sacrifices called for in faithfulness to God. In hunger, one may find sympathy with the starving of the world and commit to relieving that suffering.
In Passover, Jews remember deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They eat strange foods that mean better than they taste. A bitter herb reminds of the harshness of oppression, not only for Israel past or present, but for people of all races and climes in all places and times.
Resurrection Day rituals for Christians include an odd mixture of pagan bunnies and colored eggs, along with whites and pinks and purples and blues.
Sometimes these traditions bring surprises.
This year, my wife Kim couldn’t wait for grandchildren to revive the Easter-egg hunt tradition. She placed various goods in eight plastic eggs for our children – Cameron, 18, Rhett, 17, and Jillian, soon 24, er 14 – to find.
In three of the eggs were messages that read, “He is Risen!” “Happy Easter!” and “Sorry, try again!” In the others, five denominations were inserted – not Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc., but rather a one dollar bill, a five, $10, $20 and $50. (She did not consult with me on the denominations. I surely would have counseled the church currency.)
The tallies: Cameron, three eggs, one dollar and lots of spirituality; Rhett, one egg for $10; and Jillian, four eggs and $75 in booty. Figures.
Preacher dad tried to interpret the good/bad by spinning the parable of the workers in the vineyard: Jesus told about a man who hired workers throughout the day to labor in his field. At the end of the day, they all got the same amount of money.
Well, that didn’t work.
What did work was Jillian splitting her bounty with Cameron and Rhett – sister gained $20 more, brother another $5.
Voluntary sharing in order to overcome economic inequity! Biblical generosity.
Of course, this left Rhett now with the least, which as the middle child he was quick to point out. Being the only boy, the girls showed no sympathy. He got over it.
So why do some have more than others? Hard work, chronic greed, good genes, unjust systems, pure luck? Theories don’t solve problems, people do. Theologies can only reinforce inequalities sometimes rather than address them. But our religious teachings should be an antidote to apathy, and more so to antipathy.
What if God depends upon us to level things? What if God wants us to be content with enough and discontent with too much in the face of those who have too little?
Putting head and heart into our spiritual practices should lead us to putting our hands to thing as well.