HUMAN RITES (Audiobook)
The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments
By Dru Johnson
Narrated by Trevor Johnson
Courtesy of Eerdmans
How might your everyday, never-think-twice-about routines be shaping and forming you, for good or bad? Dru Johnson invites us to consider this question.
In Human Rites, Johnson explores how our schedules and smart phones, sacraments and training, all work together to mold us into who we are. Though we may not view all of these activities and elements of our lives as rituals, they do have ritualistic aspects, and as embodied creatures, these physical routines have a way of working themselves into our souls, outside in.
Johnson’s point here is well-taken. We can embrace the trappings of modern life and culture too uncritically. It is good and wise to consider how we spend our days…because “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Dillard, 1989, p. 32). As others have suggested, it may be helpful to set aside these things for a time and only add them back as we reconsider their usefulness (Newport, 2019).
And yet, while Johnson lands this central point, at times, he diffuses his argument by seeing ritual everywhere in everything without distinction. That there are ritual elements everywhere seems reasonable enough, but it is not always clear what Johnson means by the term or what he sees as ritualistic about a certain thing.
Regarding the terminology, he interchanges “ritual” with such concepts as practice, embodied practice, routine, habit, rhythm, training, rule, liturgy, ethics, addiction, scripts, and rite. Are there no nuances between these ideas?
As for the examples, he mentions some practices such as church rituals , which seem clearly ritualistic (formal, repetitive, symbolic, embodied). But then he offers more puzzling examples, like the ritual of reading a book. How is reading a ritual? Is the act or convention of reading itself the ritual? Or, is it the habits and idiosyncrasies that attach themselves to the act of reading? It is unclear. The discussion gets so broad at points that one is left thinking the real topic is perhaps how environment and nurture affect people.
But I do not intend to be overly critical. Johnson’s admonition to consider the role of these exterior things on our soul is a helpful reminder. And, at just over four hours of listening, it is a thought-provoking conversation worth the time.
Dillard, A. (1989). The Writing Life. Harper Perennial.
Johnson, D. (2019). Human Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments. Eerdmans.
Newport, C. (2019). Digital minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world. Portfolio.