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Religious rituals help us through life


9 June 2013

This morning I gave my eleventh "Thought for the week" on BBC Radio Manchester. As always, I was introduced as Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester because I want to promote the organisation and what it does.

I was moved to write it after hearing a bereaved mother explaining on the radio how her friends avoided meeting her in the street. They didn't know how to talk to her about her terrible loss, and did not realise how their avoidance was hurting her. All she wanted from her friends was a hug and an affirmation that they cared.

Thought for the week

Last weekend was the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The most solemn part of the ceremony was the ritual when the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed the new queen with holy oil. The ritual was so solemn that it was not shown on television.

All religions have rituals which are used to mark occasions big and small. For example, each Friday Jews light candles for the Sabbath while Roman Catholics avoid eating meat.

The most important occasions in our lives; birth, marriage and death; are surrounded by religious rituals. For example, at each Jewish wedding a glass is broken to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In our modern rational world, it is easy to scoff at religious rituals. Quite often atheists, and even some religious people, will use words such as “mere ritual” or “empty ritual.”

Those who scoff at rituals are ignoring something very important.

We all know that thoughts and feelings lead to actions. However, it also works the other way round.

What we do affects how we think and feel. That is why most of us feel happier after exercise. Physical exercise releases hormones into the brain which lift our mood.

Religion puts this knowledge into practice.

Muslims and Jews learn from childhood that death is an unavoidable part of life. They learn what to do when someone dies. Many of the rituals are very similar.

Relatives and friends of the bereaved have a religious duty to visit them, to express sympathy and to help the bereaved to grieve.

There is also practical help. Friends will bring food to eat, so that the bereaved can concentrate on mourning.

With the decline of religion in Britain, many people are growing up without learning the rituals that have helped religious people for thousands of years.

I was heartbroken last week listening to a bereaved mother talking on the radio.

She said friends avoided her on the street because they don’t want to talk to her about her loss.

Her friends obviously thought they were doing the right thing.

The sad truth is, they didn’t know the right thing to do, because they had never learned it.


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