Berwick Thought for the Week: 'Perhaps both in and out of our churches we might learn from the people of Northern Siberia'

Watercolour of Iona by Susan Hughes.Watercolour of Iona by Susan Hughes.
Watercolour of Iona by Susan Hughes.
A ritual has been described as a sequence of events involving actions, words and gestures.

The explorer Bruce Parry recently visited a remote part of Siberia to witness the rituals of the people of northern Russia. Bruce wanted to explore not only their day to day rituals of creating shelter, washing and clothing themselves, sourcing food, but also their spiritual rituals.

We live close to Holy Island – founded from the Isle of Iona, that great cradle of spirituality. The influence of the monks of Iona leading to the building of our present churches and chapels, within which spiritual rituals are repeated regularly, services or ceremonies of actions, words and gestures.

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These rituals make sense to those involved, but unless they are explained, uninitiated onlookers may look and listen in bewilderment.

The meaning of the ritual needs to be explained – not least how that ritual affects the hearts of participants, but how the ritual provides a foundation for their spirituality. Christianity was not spread from Holy Island through silent Christians.

Bruce discovered that the Soviet Union had banned all expressions of religion and spirituality. Communities were allowed to dress in tribal costumes and follow rituals for tourists, repeat actions, words, gestures but they were not permitted to follow the ritual with their hearts.

Today, they are free to rediscover the deep spirituality behind their rituals and share their spiritual insights with Bruce and others. This new freedom has made them more keenly aware of their spiritual insights than before, when expressions of them were banned. There is a spiritual revival.

Perhaps both in and out of our churches we might learn from the people of Northern Siberia. As Joni Mitchell once sang: “you don’t know what you’ve gottill it’s gone”.

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