Smells, Bells and Dry Toast

My whole life I was drawn to ritual. My favorite scene in Sex and The City was the one where Charlotte gets married and she takes the Jewish ritual Mikveh bath. I love the sacred water, the candles, chanting and incense. The ambiance of ritual was something I could feel in my bones. It felt like home.

I’ve heard several Neo-Pagan practitioners express a love of the ritual aspects of Catholicism. Kelly-Ann Maddox, the Reader I mentioned in my last blog, described the same fascination. She said she wasn’t interested in what the Bible had to offer or what the Priest was preaching (to paraphrase what she said in one of her videos) but she was in love with the ritual ambiance of Catholic Mass with incense, candles, stained glass windows and statues of Saints.

I was speaking with a gentleman I met through my job today, he describes himself as a “recovering Catholic.” He informed me there is a term for Kelly-Ann’s experience, he said “she loves the smells and bells.” I loved that term because that is exactly what I loved and felt I must incorporate into my spiritual practice in order to really feel fulfilled. I love mediation, mindfulness and other such practices but they always left me feeling a bit empty, like something was missing. The need for ritual was always there with me but I had no way to articulate it until recently.

In Robert A. Johnson’s book Inner World, he said “We have begun to rediscover ritual as a natural human tool for connecting to our inner selves, focusing and refining our religious insights, and constellating psychological energy.”

For me my upbringing in the Anglican (Episcopal) Church felt sorely lacking of a truly ritual ambiance. I nicknamed it the dry toast of religions as it left me feeling devoid of any emotional or spiritual connection. At the time I didn’t realize the reason was the need for more meaningful ritual. There was some ritual but it lacked the visceral quality of the Catholic Masses I had attended on occasion.

My recovering Catholic friend described that as a boy he would stare at the fire in the fireplace and dread the hellish destiny that surely awaited him at the end of this life. My response was that I would welcome the fiery depths of hell over dry toast any day because I would likely die of boredom for its lack of ritual and feeling. For all that hell was at least it would not be boring.

To me a world without ritual is a boring, empty world that I can no longer live in. I am so grateful to have ritual as a regular part of my life now, it has brought a level of meaning and happiness to my life that I never experienced before.


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