This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
The Benefit of Ritual
Since early March, my wife and I’s local church (like all other sane congregations) has cancelled in-person services in favor of online times of worship. These streamed services still take place during the same time (Sunday at 10am) and largely follow the same pattern (opening song, welcome statement, announcements, children’s time, liturgy, etc.).
I’ll fully admit that some Sundays it’s difficult to motivate myself to pull the service’s livestream up on out T.V. – maybe I’m in the middle of an exciting chapter, or I want to do my exercise routine, or I want to go on a walk – but I’m happy to say that so far every week, we have tuned in and participated in the services. And I’ll also fully admit that at times it can feel a bit hokey trying to actively listen and participate in a service taking place on the television. I hardly imagine that I’m the only one who feels that way.
Many Christians are probably asking themselves what the use of tuning in to these streamed services is. This is likely especially true due to how much many modern churches rely on emotional engagement, an experience, to enthrall their congregants. To be fair, if you attended church in order to get something out of it, in order to feel like there was a productive something that happened during that time, there might not be much use in these streamed services. But I would contend that aside from a mere experience – or even things more substantial like learning and fellowshipping – going to your couch to listen to (and hopefully participate in) a service is a good thing to do for it’s own sake.
For Christians, I would contend that maintaining the practices and rituals of church is an inherent good. Ritual in and of itself can have tremendous value, even when you feel like the ritual gave you no significant emotional, mental, or spiritual experience.
Christians are called to be a people set apart, not just spiritually, but culturally and civically as well. Just like you can participate in certain civic rituals in order to be “more” of an American (shooting fireworks on July 4th, participating in capitalism, voting, keeping up with pop-culture, etc.), so too can participating in religious rituals help you to be “more” of a Christian.
Obviously, these religious rituals vary not only by denomination but by specific congregations too. I’m not trying to claim that any certain ritual or set of rituals is right or superior over others, but just that whatever your rituals as a Christian are you should keep them up (as best as possible). Not because there is any sort of of magic or experience that the rituals will generate (though they might), but because these rituals help to set Christians apart. They help to provide an outward contrast of “the world” and the Church. They help to establish a separate Christian polity.
On Sunday mornings, get yourself up and tune into church. Contemplate the prayers. Think about the scriptures. Take communion (even if your cracker and juice have to be substituted with a tortilla chip and salsa – yes, I’ve done this).
In times when the structure of the Church as we know it is challenged – in this case by circumstances – it is critical to maintain our set apart culture. To fail to do so – to let our religious rituals fall away – would be to give this terrible pandemic one more victim that we had the power to save.