Last week, the priest at a nearby church gave a homily about the importance of ritual — about how it keeps us connected even when things don’t feel very compelling on their own. He gave examples about going to Mass week after week, even when you don’t feel like it, or staying married, even when someone else looks more attractive than your spouse.
A couple weeks ago, one of my close friends met my husband for the first time. I was nervous. This wasn’t just any friend. It was someone I once thought was the love of my life. It was only semi-requited, so not much happened in the way of romance. But if it had, I don’t think I would have given it up easily. I know there would be challenges — it’s very consoling to look at the shortcomings of our former loves when we don’t end up with them, but I think I would have worked through those. So I let myself imagine, for a bit, how my life might have been different if we’d ended up together.
The first thought that came to me was, “But Sunday mornings wouldn’t be the same.”
My friend and I are both deeply spiritual and respectful of and curious about one another’s spiritual paths, but we are not the same religion and wouldn’t have regularly worshiped together. Living in the same household, we probably would have felt our religious differences chafing more than I would like to admit. And that was really all the further I needed to go down that path. The thought of Sunday mornings with my husband, going to church, then discussing the service in the car and getting coffee or breakfast before we run errands (or if we’re lucky, go home to rest!), convinced me I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I could only picture this cherished ritual with one person, the person I built it with. And that one ritual was more precious to me than a million tantalizing, possible outcomes with “the one that got away.”
So when the priest spoke of ritual as being the one thing that can keep it all together, no matter what else is happening around you, my heart said a big yes. Catholicism taught me the value of ritual; no matter how much of a struggle it was for my parents to finish the farm chores and get us all washed and dressed in time, we went to Church every single week. This probably had more to do with my parents’ Catholic guilt than their religiosity, but it taught me something that I still hold onto today. Sometimes, quantity is more important than quality. Sometimes, without quantity, you never get quality.
A lot of people stop going to church because they say they don’t “get anything” out of it. I certainly didn’t feel like I was “getting anything” out of it all those years that I was living at home, when I would secretly hope my parents would “forget” it was Saturday so I could stay home and play rather than go to the night Mass. Yet, now I realize that its in the sheer quantity of ritual that you allow the space for those breakthrough moments to happen, those moments when you hear God’s voice on your heart and know what it means in a world of uncertainty. And although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I think that must be why I kept going, even when my parents weren’t there to make me. I went to church every Sunday throughout college, and then through my many single, post-college years. Now, that rhythm continues, and I’ve returned to sharing it with family–albeit, a different family than the one I started with.
All this isn’t to pat myself on the back for my stellar church attendance, or to get onto a high horse about the value of attending services regularly. But it is a realization that I cannot imagine my life without the tether of a weekly religious service. There’s something that feels vast and frightening about it, as if I would somehow lose the ability to tell the days and the weeks apart if I stopped marking each one with service. Perhaps my real fear is that I’ll forget the feeling of those, “Ah, yes,” moments when things all come together, after weeks or months of doing the same old thing in the same old way.
I wouldn’t trade those moments for all the lost loves and free-spiritedness in the world.