Why religious rituals bring us closer to God

March 11 / First Monday of Lent

The law of the Lord is perfect, quickening the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are righteous, rejoicing the heart; the Lord’s command is clear, illuminating the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, everlasting; the ordinances of the Lord are true and just. -Ps 19: 7-9

Human beings need structure. Whether it’s a regular nap schedule for an infant, a repetitive bedtime ritual for a young child (three books, a glass of water, prayers and two goodnight kisses) or the routine daily coffee and newspaper reading for a long time. married couple, the comfort and familiarity of routines promote the growth of trust and love. The verses of today’s Psalms, of pristine and balanced beauty, both praise and embody the beauty of the ritual (these verses, like those on Saturday, are worth reading aloud). The parallel sentences, rhythmically with sensitivity, compact and musical, sound a note of rhythmic regularity. It is, for the psalmist, the beauty of the religion that God gave him: it is trustworthy, it is beautiful, it is intrinsically holy. Today, amid reports of declining numbers claiming religious affiliation, declining attendance at worship services, and the general turn in secularization of the times, questions about the value of l religious observance are important. Why should one be an “observer” or a “practitioner”? Doesn’t regular church attendance and formal worship just stifle our creativity and freedom? Can’t we just go to the beach and find God? Decades ago, acknowledging a widespread reluctance to “impose a calendar on the soul,” twentieth-century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel offered a fiery defense of religious observance: “The deepest truth is that routine elicits attention, calling for a response where the soul would otherwise remain dormant. One undertakes to be affected by the sacred, if it remains on the threshold of one’s kingdom. In the weeks to come, may we also choose to dwell on the threshold of the holy kingdom of God.

Almighty God, gtell me the willingness to embrace the rituals and observances of my faith throughout this penitential season and beyond.Amen.

For today’s readings, Click here.

Ruth R. Culp