I don’t know what disgusts me more, the man in the White House presuming to have the power or authority to order houses of worship to open and meet, or houses of worship opening and meeting in the midst of a pandemic.
Still, between last Friday’s absurd and blatant attempt by Trump to further fracture society, we have had three days of sunshine – maybe more, because I am writing this on sun-drenched Memorial Day. I simply cannot waste any more energy on that man’s manipulations and those who succumb to them at risk to their wellness. So how about that sunshine?
Now that I may have riled you up whatever side you’re on, take a deep breath. Close your eyes even – that’s right, put the paper or tablet down for a moment and close your eyes and breathe slowly through your nose, exhaling slowly through your mouth. Go ahead, give it a try…
Did you do it? I hope so, because that sense of centered stillness is always available. Try it again, or for the first time if you wrote off my initial invitation. Closed eyes, slow deep breathing…
Our breath is extraordinarily powerful. Breathing controls the heart and the mind, speeding them up, slowing them down, or holding them steady. We so rarely pay attention to our breathing unless of course we are doing something like yoga, singing, or running. If you engage in something like that, you know how important conscious breathing is. Even so, it is easy to forget to pay attention to breath.
Ritual is a kind of measured breathing. It can be powerful too. Having rituals that separate the hours of the day, week, or even year, help us to pause our lives like slow, deep breathing calms the mind. Rituals need not be religious. Birthdays, for example, are a kind of ritual themselves, and most families have a number of rituals tied to birthdays. Many people plant flowers or flags at the graves of family members or fallen soldiers on Memorial day – that’s a ritual. Some folks have wine at a certain time each evening – also a ritual. These are ways of pausing, measuring time, metaphorically taking a deep breath.
Those who are part of a spiritual community have rituals deeply embedded in our lives. Whether sacraments, choir, or Sunday dinners, the power of such rituals to hold and heal our lives is part of what makes us yearn to be together again in worship.Yet it is the very healing nature of spiritual community that is subverted by the contagion among us, a virus diabolically infiltrating our communities and bodies through breathing. The power of breath becomes the pathway of sickness and maybe even death when we gather indoors, sing, shout, exclaim, and share meals – sacred or potluck.
Meanwhile, there are so many rituals we can do in our homes that won’t spread the virus, and many churches have figured out how to enhance what we do as individuals with online resources that bond the community. So whether religious or not, I invite you to be creative and thoughtful about adding rituals to your days and weeks. To houses of worship, I urge you, please do not meet in person yet.