The Words Can Carry Me
A friend recently asked why I go to church. My response, which was unexpected even to me, was that I go as a ritual. The word ritual can call to mind dull, repetitive actions that have become meaningless. But, to me, by that very repetitiveness, ritual acknowledges the redundancies of life and becomes a tool to help me cope with the monotony and dull ache of living I sometimes feel.
I have been thinking about ritual because I recently started attending a church that uses liturgy in worship. Before this church, it had been several years since I’d attended anywhere regularly though I grew up going “every time the doors were open.”
Part of my reason for not going was a feeling of insufficiency. The non-liturgical services I tried, like those of my upbringing, seemed to want me to feel intense devotion and belief. But if I’m honest, I have questions about my life and faith that hinder the elation of devotion. I remember what it felt like, but I have no idea how to feel it now.
(My inability to feel devotion may be a result of my weaknesses and have little to do with worship style. I don’t intend to debate forms of worship here or to justify a lack of faith or discipline on my part. My intent is to draw attention to the power of saying something.)
So the ritual of liturgy comforts me because it acknowledges my belief and gives me the opportunity to participate in it regardless of my level of emotional devotion. Every Sunday I will say, “I believe in God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ” whether or not I feel connected in any emotional way to that belief. I think of Matthew 12:37, “The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you,” and I am reassured by the fact that my words can impact my spirit even if my feelings are conflicted, and the words can carry me through days I feel less to days I feel more.