I’m a stickler for details.
As a kid, I was an acolyte. I had a wide range of responsibilities each Sunday. I lit the candles on either side of the altar, establishing the sacred space before service began. I stood beside the priest, assisting him in making preparations for the breaking of the bread. I chimed the bell at the appropriate moment in the liturgy, indicating a call to recognize an event of special importance within the narrative. And, I closed out the service by extinguishing the candles I had lit at the start. My action or stillness was all part of a great liturgical symphony; one that sounded out to me in a deep and resonant way.
The ritual was an act of service intended to facilitate, for all those present, a real, palpable, sensory experience of communion with the god we’d all come to worship. The details mattered because our spiritual lives mattered. Honor the details, and you honor our individual experiences of communion. Honor the details and, ultimately, you honor our god.
This childhood memory of a beloved weekly ritual stands in stark contrast to my experience of yesterday’s Ostara rite. Instead of feeling like I was taking part in something sacred, I felt as though I was simply standing on the periphery of a haphazard community theater performance; one in which the actors fall in and out of character, delivering their lines without conviction and with unconvincing accents, and seeming mostly disconnected and unaware of their audience.
So many things were missing; so many things didn’t come together. There was no attempt to create a group mind. There was no initial purification. The leader spent a great part of the ritual with a crying baby on his hip. There was no Omen on account of the divination tools having been left in the car. It all felt rather hodge-podge and thrown together; poorly planned and poorly executed.
I left feeling disheartened and disillusioned.
Worship must be more than role-play. I believe that effective group worship must be an engaging act that seeks to unite the people present in a common mind for a common purpose. The leaders must be teachers. They must be magicians. They must be priests. They must be open to the hearts and minds of all those present. And most importantly, they must be sincere.
This morning I woke up early, and I approached my altar. I stilled myself, and I lit my candles. I recited the words I’d chosen from the Pagan Ritual Prayer Book, and I cleared myself of all emotional, mental and spiritual impurities. I called on my Gatekeeper, Arawn, and with a contrite heart made offerings to the Kindreds and my Patron, Brighid. Then, from my most sincere place, I acknowledged the coming of the Spring, the frantic and explosive rebirth of life from death, and the multitude of blessings that are present all around me. In the process, I felt transported to another place. I felt surrounded by those Beings whom I came to honor. I felt, quite simply, the experience of Communion.
Once it was finished and the ritual done, I slowly and deliberately put out each flame. I whispered words beneath my breath. I payed attention to every detail.