Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rituals and revelations


As a Catholic, Holy Week, and Easter have been a significant part of my religious upbringing. In my teens I was an altar boy at St. Margaret Mary's Church in Pine Grove. On more than one occasion my fellow altar boys and I stayed at the church right through the weekend. I wanted to be a priest - I wanted to be the first Canadian Pope. I suppose to a young man the pomp and circumstance, the mystery, the special powers the discipline and the structure of the church was intriguing and in some ways irresistible. And of course there was the allure of belonging, the friendships and the bonding, not to mention the long black cassocks we got to wear. Lately however, I've been questioning the role that church and religion has to play in my life. I suppose going to mass every Sunday does bring a degree of order to ones life - and there is a sense of belonging, and more than anything (sadly), I love going out for a nice greasy breakfast - a weekly indulgence that I almost crave after 6 days of (good for you but a little sour and bland) yogurt, fruit and healthy, fibrous cereal. This week on CBC Radio, I listened to a program about how most religious events were originally tied to the seasons and the lunar calendar. It made the holiness of holy week a little less holy to think that these dates are not tied to real events, but rather selected by "holy men" as dates that worked for the masses. For example, Easter, a time of rebirth, and renewal co-incides with spring. None-the-less, millions of people around the world accept these man made dates and events as times during which they are expected to follow certain rituals and act in certain ways. I wonder what is it that humans like so much about ritual? I suppose, if we repeat the same patterns over and over it helps to distract us from the fact that we are essentially alone, living in a fragile ecosystem in a massive universe of unknown origin spinning on an invisible axis in thin air around a burning ball of fire with old age and certain death as the end point? My revelation from all of this thinking; each of us came into existence naked, with nothing more than a beating heart, and in the end everything that we care about, everything that we accumulate will be be lost to us, including the beating heart. Is it any wonder that religion and ritual and their promise of eternal life everlasting, in exchange for faith and charity have so much appeal to us? I think not, but what alternative is there?

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