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Anzac observance amidst life's rituals


My mother, long departed, used to do the washing on Mondays. She described it as her weekly ritual. Our next door neighbour, Joyce, on the other hand, visited her mother’s grave each Mother’s Day. She said once that she had made her routine visit to the cemetery. She meant it kindly but actually I think mum had a routine and Joyce performed a ritual. Both are important in life. Rituals and routines merge to give us security more than we might imagine.

While many people find royal pomp and ceremony interesting, for example, they might also be bemused by snippets of ritual, such as the symbolic manhandling of a reluctant newly elected Speaker into the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives. On the whole though, ceremonies and ritual give us a framework into which we can insert our own thoughts, identify with our history and from which we can derive comfort. Not only do they recall the past but may very clearly affirm our intentions for the future. Life’s ritual moments, including the joyful ones, serve to remind us that we live within a time span and that it passes all too quickly.

Memorial observances of various kinds give ample scope for ritual expression, whether religious or secular. At a funeral for example, the fact that family and friends gather in the one place at the one time is of itself ritualistic in nature. The sprinkling of earth, the releasing of doves or balloons, each encapsulates a message. The recent expression of love and sadness after the murder of Stephanie Scott at Leeton, where hot air balloons hung in the sky at daybreak, were a moving example of respect for her and of support for her family. It was a creative ritual, uniting believers and non-believers alike when words were inadequate.

Part of the beauty of such moments is that, as individuals, we can attribute meaning to them within the privacy of our own thoughts and feelings. They feed each of us uniquely because of that. We are not being told what we ought to think, believe or say and for that reason symbolism in such a context is respectful of diversity. Indeed they may challenge us to broaden our understandings of prayer because, to some, such acts are without doubt such an offering.

For some time I believed that our community understandings of ceremonial and ritual were being lost. Perhaps in the strict liturgical sense it is, but I think now that we are merely adapting to changing circumstances and a different world. Of late there seems to be a growing understanding on the part of the community in general that ritual and ceremonial observances really do feed people and that participation in them is a healthy way of expressing unity with a cause or with an earlier generation.

Attendances at ceremonies on ANZAC Day are increasingly supported and are prime examples of symbolic respect. They’re also a wonderful way to introduce young people to the concept of ceremony and silence. There is probably no more moving experience than to be in the midst of thousands of totally silent people at Shrines of Remembrance as the sun rises. How can so many people be so still? Such an act of speechless bonding is beyond description. Tragedies in Victoria in recent weeks have again highlighted the need for community expressions of sympathy. The basic ingredients of loss, remembrance, respect and empathy are all present. Placing flowers, lighting candles; such things console the participants but also speak of our bewilderment at the snuffing out of life, personality and potential.

Rituals, whether secular or religious, are a healthy part of living, whether as a nation, a community or as individuals.

Jim Pilmer is a Melbourne Anglican priest.

Topic tags: Jim Pilmer, Anzac Day, ritual, ceremony



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Existing comments

Best article so far on the significance of Anzac Day.

Ross Howard | 21 April 2015  


Peter Goers | 22 April 2015  

Father Pilmer's reflection on the silence at the dawn service on Anzac Day was most uplifting. But it also generated a distracting and disconcerting image.. I've been very impressed and moved by the minute's silence before AFL and NFL matches on Anzac Day. There is probably no more moving experience - an experience that is short-lived. For as soon as the ball is bounced or kicked an almighty roar fills the arena as sport sublimates the tendency to conflict, violence and dominance within our broken natures. The image I had was of the two captains of the opposing teams coming together after the minute's silence and one saying to the other: 'I have been so moved by the thought of what our dead diggers went through that I think it would be disrespectful to their honour to engage in a game that glories in big hit-ups, ferocious tackles and physical and psychological domination. Let's call it off.' And the other captain saying: 'I agree. Maybe we can meet again next week? Or just share the points?.' As I say it was a distracting and disconcerting image because you see I love my footie.

Uncle Pat | 22 April 2015