Enrichment and Inspiration for Beta Sigma Phi Sisters from Marilyn Ross
To trace the origin and growth of rituals in Beta Sigma Phi is to draw the picture of the very soul of an association of people devoted to the development of a better self as individuals and to a better world.
In the beginning, there were three simple rituals: the ritual by which a member pledged herself to the ideals and purposes of the organization; the ritual for the opening of meetings when members clasped hands and spoke in unison; and the ritual by which a meeting was closed in the same manner.
Each of these rituals expressed a brief and straightforward statement of the purpose it served.
Because the purposes served were inspiring and the words were direct and true, the rituals proved lastingly effective and beautiful. Probably no member could readily express the full effect on her own life to these cherished ceremonies.
But certainly, today more than ever before, we all understand the importance of "feeding " into our own minds and hearts, that is into our consciousness and emotions, every constructive thought and high ideal possible, since these alone can lift a life from sordid mediocrity to meaningful expression and experience.
Let those who scoff at the solid old axioms take another look at the one which says: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Who would not rather furnish his own mind with inspiration and offer the devotion of his affections to the good, the true and the beautiful? To choose otherwise is to cheat oneself.
Even a computer cannot turn out results that are good; the right data is "programmed" into it.
Rituals are the spiritual "programming" by which Beta Sigma Phi feeds into the minds and hearts of the members the basic data from which they will in time be rewarded with individual and personal results, differing in form but not in essence form symbolic statements more general and abstract.
But the urgency and variety of lesser things press upon us many hours of every day.
Constructive thinking, to be most effective, must be habitual. It needs cultivation as a habit until it is firmly established as one. Here again, the rituals are of value, especially the ones repeated at every meeting, because this helps, by reiteration, to deepen our comprehension, and at the same time to form a habit of good thought.
It has been said that habit is second nature, but William James, writing on the psychology of making habits work for you, says: "Habit is second nature? Habit is ten times nature."
Human beings striving for ever richer and bigger lives seek a closer association with one another than is usually provided by casual and erratic contact with their fellow men. Thus came into being various groups defined as brotherhoods or sisterhoods. In these groups, they pledge to one another mutual promises of loyalty and comradeship which engender fonder and more enduring relationships than elsewhere available. The benefits have been long proven and well deserved.
Beta Sigma Phi is, of course, such a mutual benefit organization. Its rituals are an integral part of all it was or has become.
Effective ritual is the use of imagery, symbolism and a special sort of musical language to stimulate the super-sensory areas of our natures. Unlike more prosaic communication, the result is not so much information as it is communion and inspiration.
Let us observe a little of how all these principles work by taking one ritual -- our briefest one, the ritual used for opening a meeting.
In the first phrase of this ritual, we touch and respond to every other member as we speak together the unifying words. "SISTERS IN BETA SIGMA PHI. . ." Those words would have little or no value in a different situation, but here, as our hands are joined in what we know to be a circle of tested and genuine friendship, they are deeply felt and with each repetition become more established in our consciousness.
This sort of meaning and impact, this fuller realization and emotional response, is almost magic in power and can but increase with repeated experience of union and acceptance.
Also, under this ritual, as "WE PLEDGE OURSELVES ANEW TO THE AIMS AND PURPOSES OF OUR GLORIOUS SISTERHOOD...," we help to keep in abeyance that tendency to backslide and inertia that threatens every human endeavor.
As we say, "GLORIOUS SISTERHOOD" we not only strengthen and affirm the "glory" and sense of sisterhood, but we are reminded of the privilege of being a member and of our pride and pleasure as individuals.
"...MORE TOLERANCE FOR OUR FELLOW BEINGS THROUGH A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THEM" gives us incentive to work at our chapter studies, to prepare programs and present material or subjects which are all related to tolerance and understanding.
"...A CLEARER AND DEEPER APPRECIATION OF THE CULTURAL AND FINER THINGS OF LIFE FOR OURSELVES" becomes to us much more than a worthy wish; it becomes a permanent need which we gratify with ever-increasing eagerness and enjoyment.
In these two phrases, again we see the dual purpose we pursue; to be of service to our fellow man to improve as individuals.
The closing phrase is a natural sequence as it says "...A DETERMINATION TO GIVE THE BEST THAT IS IN US TO OUR SORORITY, AND TO ASSIST IN ANY AND EVERY WAY TO SHED THE LIGHT OF OUR TORCH THROUGHOUT THE WORLD."
What an uplift it gives us just to pronounce those words, "to give the best that is in us!" It is a clarion call to our highest nature. Again and again, as our meetings open we make this call and we know full well if we give the best we have, the best will come back to us.
This ritual is a short and simple one. But the years have proven how strong and true it is. It has wrought its wonders from the first time it was spoken in our meeting. It will do so in many years to come.
How many times do you suppose a member, saying and hearing that phrase, "SISTERS......WE PLEDGE......ANEW" has found renewal of her faith when otherwise she could have drifted away?
We all have our moments of doubt and despondency. If at the moment a friend is near to clasp our hand and give to us the needed word of encouragement, we are most fortunate. If none is near, we must find our help elsewhere, and this can only be done if our previous "programming " has fed into our heart and mind enough faith and courage to meet the test.
A. J. Cronin wrote his first novel as a result of an illness which forced him out of an extremely active life to a dull and quiet life in the country. In that six months, he turned to writing as an escape from boredom and to help him pass the tedious hours. For a while, he applied himself well; then suddenly the project seemed utterly futile, and he was seized by depression. Angrily he gathered up the manuscript and consigned it to the trash can, and strode off for a walk.
Along his way, he came upon an old Scots farmer laboriously digging a ditch in the bogged and peaty heath. The farmer gazed fixedly at his visitor and seemed to sense his mood. Then he told him, "My father ditched this bog all his days and never made a pasture. I've dug it all my days and I've never made a pasture. I cannot help but dig. My father knew and I know that if you only dig long enough a pasture can be made here."
As Cronin trudged back to his own place, he thought of what the farmer had said and, needless to say, retrieved his manuscript and went back to work on it. From then on it went well, thanks to his timely lesson in perseverance.
Every ritual is a sort of prayer. Dr. Alexis Carrel puts it well: "Prayer is not only worship; it is also an invisible emanation of man's worshiping spirit -- the most powerful form of energy one can generate."
He also said: "Prayer is a force as real as terrestrial gravity. As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by a serene effort of prayer. It is the only power in the world that seems to overcome the so-called laws of nature."
Tolerance is much in the news these days when so much is said about civil rights. But the understanding and simple brotherly love which lead to something even better than tolerance are not always remembered.
A more worthy relationship is based not on a man's "rights " merely, but on his dignity as an individual human being.
A delightful example of a simple man who earned and received the full measure of respect and honor from the community in which he lived is told by a certain St. Louis Jew, Rabbi Iserman, in his account of a vacation friendship with a man named Ray.
Ray was an unpretentious man, the driver of a school bus in a rural community of Wisconsin, where the Rabbi spent his holidays.
Ray's job was not a "minor " position, because annually the parents of the children vote for the bus driver and Ray was continuously elected, because his neighbors had confidence in him year after year.
Besides his overalls, Ray had one suit of clothes which he wore on Sundays and important occasions. Everyone in town knew and respected him. He called the banker by his first name, and the town's leading merchant, too. Well, one year during the Rabbi's visit, Ray was ill and the Rabbi called on him. As he started to leave, he felt strongly that he wanted to bless Ray, but was restrained lest the family, being Protestant, might be embarrassed. To his own regret, but restrained by what he thought the reaction of others might be, the Rabbi remained silent.
Shortly thereafter Ray died, and the Rabbi called on his wife. To his surprise, she said to him "Our minister, the pastor of the Presbyterian church, is in Nebraska on his vacation. Will you take charge of the services for Ray? I am sure that would be his wish, too."
Services were held on a weekday afternoon. A Protestant minister from a neighboring town assisted the Rabbi. The stores were closed and all seats in the church were filled with those eager to show their appreciation of Ray's life and bid him farewell.
The Rabbi afterward said of this occasion: "My experience in Wisconsin seems to have become a part of the American tradition, a part of the American scene. This has produced fellowship unknown in any other country. It is one of the noblest expressions of American civilization."
American civilization is based in the concept of the dignity of every man. Whatever tolerance can be gained by anger and argument will never measure up to that understanding and brotherly love which is accorded to a simple man who lives a good life.
Under the obligations of our rituals, we seek for ourselves and for others the way to a good life. We find a good life needs truth and the beauty of self-expression and self- respect.
We find with Henry Emerson Fosdick that "the central business of every human being is to be a real person." We are unique beings, each of us entrusted with the making of a personality.
Seeing ourselves without rose-colored glasses, we must learn to accept ourselves and avoid a break with tolerance and understanding, which we must give to ourselves as to others. This human mistake is pointed out by a cartoon where a physician faces his patient with anxious solemnity, saying: "This is a very serious case. I'm afraid you are allergic to yourself."
Seeing ourselves as less than perfect makes it easier to accept others who, like us, are less than perfect. As integrated personalities less obsessed with self, more interested in others and outside interests, we learn to "get ourselves off our hands." (Step out from under our own shadows).
Abraham Lincoln had a tragic struggle with himself. In his early manhood, he was not a unified and coherent person. The amazing development of his later years into a great personality came through devotion to a cause which made him forget himself, and turned his long struggle into understanding, sympathy, humor and wisdom.
A brief and simple ritual, but how deep the meanings it unfolds. Three obligations taken, to help make a fine and satisfying life...to understand and cherish our fellow man...to more fully embrace the good life for ourselves...and to "give" to one another.
These are the deeper experiences and communions which inspired the founding of groups like ours. As Edwin Markam tells us:
"There is a destiny that makes us brothers,