The Merit of Hidden Ritual

In the book, Not Cancelled: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19, there’s a chapter containing a short personal reflection entitled, “Mourning is Not Cancelled.” One of 49 stories of creativity and resilience, this one begins, “Today I attended a funeral. And I was heartbroken I wasn’t there.”

Contributor Catherine Kenwell recounts watching the livestreamed funeral of her best friend’s mother.

I wanted to pay my respect to a woman who was often like a second mom to me. I ached to congregate with others who were full of both deep sorrow and muted joy in our thoughts of a life well lived. […] So I showered and dressed and did my hair. I donned a dress. I put on lipstick. The everyday rituals that have eroded since March. I felt like there was some comfort in maintaining proper decorum, as if dressing in my Sunday best would somehow offer a sense of ceremony and perhaps, when it was over, a little closure.

Of course so much of ritual in our lives is a matter of community. It’s natural for us to want to experience the joys and sorrows of life together as whole persons – in body and soul.

Yet this brief narrative also leads me to think about what merit there might be in hidden ritual – in the rituals in which we persevere with faithfulness and constancy whether or not anyone else sees it or is there to share the experience with us.

In these times, the decision to maintain rituals – even the most everyday ones – can be a matter of a noble interiority and give an opportunity to make a personal rectitude of our intentions about why we do the things that we do. Particularly when rituals are not a matter of performance, imitation, or acclaim, they can become ennobled as the free and deliberate acts of ours of which only God knows.

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