The Importance of Rituals

I’ve been thinking about going to church. It’s been about six years since I attended. After my father died my faith was reduced to the barest of foundations. Moving to a new town I struggled to find a group of people that were able to accept and explore the overwhelming doubt I was feeling towards institutionalised religion. Fortunately, just recently, I’ve found a kindred soul in a mummy friend. Our discussions are crammed into the rare moments our children are playing independently. When I told her that I was thinking about going to church in the morning she asked me if I was looking for comfort. She knows this time of year is tough for me. Within six weeks there’s my father’s birthday and the separate anniversaries of my parents’ deaths. I knew that wasn’t it. Then she asked if I missed the ritual of going to church.

She went on to tell me that as a child every Sunday morning her family went to church followed by a lunch of cheese and baked beans toasted sandwiches. My family didn’t have a ritual like that. There was a portion of my wardrobe that were my ‘Sunday clothes’. God forbid I wear them any other time of the week unless it was a super special occasion. Dad moved jobs every couple of years, each time it meant a new town and new church. Every church ran a similar program; songs, tithing, communion, announcements, sermon finished off with a prayer and a song. It was like clockwork. My childhood Sundays were filled with this pattern.  

Rituals are relaxing as they’re predictable patterns of behaviours that give life a sense of stability. It doesn’t matter what’s coming after because in that moment you know exactly what you’re supposed to do. The experience can be ethereal. That’s why many religions are based on ritualistic ceremonies. Repetitive behaviours allow the mind to relax, there is no confusion as to what is coming next. People can embrace the moment and focus solely on the experience. This openness to experience is the core of mindfulness, aka, being present in the moment.

 These days the only ceremony I religiously attend to is my morning coffee. Getting up before my daughter to make and enjoy my coffee is grounding. In these early morning moments, I know what to expect. From the time it takes to boil the kettle, the sounds and smell of the beans grinding to the moment I get to spend a moment to enjoy the result. Every morning I perform this small ritual and my soul benefits.  

I don’t know if I’m going to go back to church in the future. While I miss the structure and community, I’m yet to find a church compatible with my faith. Maybe going to church isn’t the answer. Maybe it’s building a life around these small routines. To be present in the moment and practice gratitude for the community I have. Maybe instead of church I could have my own service, with my friends, at our local coffee shop. Sunday brunch with friends, now that’s the type of ritual I could really get on board with.

Death and all his friends

I think a lot about death. Mainly about how it happens. Not the physiology, more the spiritual side of things.  Do we realise our bodies are losing consciousness? If we have a soul is there distinct separation as we float off into the spiritual world? Is there a light we walk into? Is death a being which comes to greet us? Or are there different spirit guides depending on our chosen religion? Do we just wake up in heaven or hell?  Or do we cease to exist the moment we lose conscious connection with our body?

As a child I would have told you that when you died you woke up in heaven or hell. It’s what my parents and Sunday school taught. I would not have told you that I had a fear of being buried alive, that one day I’d wake up dead and buried but still present in my body. I spent hours wondering about what happened when you died. Even more trying to figure out who created God because if God created the universe, who created him? At the age of about six my church ran movie nights showing a series of apocalyptic movies. The plot centred around people that had been left behind from the rapture. It freaked me out. Quiet moments would cause me to panic and run to find someone else, anyone that I was convinced was a good person. Someone that God wouldn’t leave behind to suffer with the rest of us.

By my late twenties I was questioning the beliefs I had been indoctrinated in as a child. It wasn’t easy examining beliefs I had unconsciously adopted. It was like tearing apart the foundation of a building while everything else tried to stay intact. As a child I was willing to believe that the world was a simple place. Sinners went to hell while Christians went to heaven. I’m not so sure anymore. I’m not even sure if there’s a hell. There’s too much contradiction in the idea that a God who is the personification of love, would create humans, give them free will and let them live out complex lives which would determine whether they would be eternally rewarded or made to suffer infinitely. As I have grown, the world which was once so black and white is now all shades of grey. There’s a handful of truths that I still cling to, but I've let go of most of the theology from my childhood.

It is at the point of death that religion hands out the ultimate reward. Christians go to heaven, Muslims find themselves in paradise, Hindus are reincarnated into something better, the atheists disappear and everyone else suffers as the eternally damned. That is very generalised but the only way of knowing whose religion is right is to die. I’m not willing to lay my life on the line to find out the truth. Therefore, my musings remain a shallow exercise in philosophy. Even if the truth was confirmed I’m not sure there would be much comfort because death is still an ending. A separation from the ones you loved and a life you know. Maybe the only comfort that can be found in death is the knowledge that you have lived well, embraced your truth and loved to the best of your ability.