For many years I looked at ritual as an opening hymn, the first scripture reading, responsive reading, the pulpit scarves adorning our pastor in different church seasons.
My dad liked the ritual.
So did my mom, especially around Christmas. Swedish potato-sausage, Limpa bread, herring, cardamon coffee cake, and warmed cinnamon & cream were poured into her steaming mug only in the winter. I liked her food rituals a little better than our church rituals.
And that is precisely why, I who viewed myself as a non-conformist, decided to go to a church in a movie theater in the late seventies because it was the non-ritualistic alternative. It was so new, so unique at the time. Folk music, mixed in with rock and an occasional jazz number, ministered to us at weekend services. We were a new church devoted to making the ‘seeker’ relaxed. Drama, media, and an occasional ‘Church Lady’ imitation encouraged us to invite friends who were far from God along for the ride every single Sunday.
And we don’t miss church except when we were traveling, for almost forty-four years now.
Hmm, has going to church a ritual now?
Little has changed about our Sunday mornings. Church at 9 o’clock, brunch at 11. The Bears at noon and a simple Sunday meal.
Hmm, are these things rituals now?
Maybe that is why I feel so disgruntled in this year in which my church rituals went crashing to the ground.
A few weeks became almost a year. I seriously grieved not being able to sit next to Ryan, a Down Syndrome adult. He is the most loving person I know. Ryan runs to the main church doors each week ahead of his dad by at least three minutes. He finds aisle L, puts his coat on his chair’s back, and greets every person with a handshake and a smile. He is a loyal Bear’s fan, and that has been so hard the last few years.
He is the first to stand as the worship team enters the auditorium. He sings with our worship team, a change from the early days when we usually sat and listened and only sang one chorus.
Occasionally, now as part of our music, an old hymn will flow from the team’s lips upfront. The words come back; it is truly is “well with my soul,” I think.
Mixing the old with the new is becoming an established ritual at our non-traditional, seeker-friendly church. When Ryan doesn’t know the words to the old music, concern grips my heart because my own children know all the words to “Good, Good, Father and Our God is an Awesome God,” and several Christmas carols but don’t know “What a Friend we have in Jesus or Trust and Obey.”
What kind of mother was I anyhow? I left the ritual of knowing hymns untaught!
Back to my friend Ryan. This boy loves to shout, clap, and say “Amen” before a prayer from the stage is over. He has an internal sense when the message needs to end, or the prayer is getting a little long, and the sixty-something lady near him needs to head directly to the restroom. Ryan feels safe in our church rituals and those he’s adopted.
The truth of the matter is our church, our so-called non-ritualistic culture, has changed and actually grown up in so many ways. And now I recognize how rituals and specific routines bring strength and comfort to my soul.
Yesterday we missed our first Christmas Eve service ever. Well, we actually saw it on-line. But I couldn’t hug my friends and family during our rich tradition of singing “Silent Night” and hugging and telling people we loved them during the last verse. It was hard watching even on our new giant screen with our new sound system. I’m balking at my new, self-proclaimed ritual, of my steaming cup of Starbucks sitting on my duff in my lazy-boy during worship.
I fear this new ritual of becoming a lazy-girl.
Because relationships are the most important ritual at my church. Dave can sometimes fit the bill, but my Joshua girls aren’t in the room because they celebrate with their TV’s. And it hurts to the quick that we can’t hug our life-long friends, our kids, and our grandchildren.
Come on, come on— I’ve learned enough during this pandemic. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter does not satisfy my ritualistic need to hug and hold. Even though I’m an introvert by nature, I will never, ever, take gathering for granted again.
For the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to a shot, that ritual that will make me 94% sure I won’t get COVID 19! And I never want to have that new ritual, of a stick going up through my nostril to my brain.
And I hope all of you are standing up right now and saying, AMEN.!
PS just because I feel never done… Here is a link to our church…awesome Willow. Our motto in this season has been, “Apart but not alone.” We are doing Zoom groups, and this pandemic has opened up the entire world to get involved here, even if you live out-of-state. https://www.willowcreek.org/