On rhythms and rituals

Justine Toh on her longing for liturgy in a year when all rhythms have been disrupted by COVID-19.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be 40 by the end of the week. COVID seems to have cancelled everything else—but not that!

There won’t be a big party. I’ve spent 39 years feeling bad about what a party pooper I am—when it comes to marking my own birthday, anyway. No more. I hear women over 40 no longer give a fig about fitting in.

But I feel for Year 12 students. They’ve had to study and organise themselves in the worst year ever to make plans and focus on work. And it’s not looking like they’ll get the chance to collectively celebrate the end of school: no muck-up day, no graduation ceremony, no formal. Even Schoolies looks like it’s off.

I didn’t anticipate that one of COVID’s biggest impacts would be the way it disrupted the rhythms of the year, the shared rituals that ground us in time and place. Without them I feel a bit rootless, cranky and lost. You?

Weirdly enough, I find myself longing for liturgy.

In a religious sense, liturgy describes the communal rites of religious worship. Think of the ritualised stuff that happens in any gathering of the faithful. Liturgy is that formal outlet for spiritual expression.

But liturgy is for everyone—even those of no particular spiritual bent. The loss we feel on behalf of school leavers deprived of familiar rites of passage proves that. Part of liturgy’s power is its reminder that our experience is not simply our own, but we’re grasped by something greater than ourselves. That all the chaos we experience can be contained, if we just keep walking the path that many have tread before us.

That’s what we all need right now: collective rites of reassurance.