Before class, we were asked to reflect on how faith communities have responded to COVID-19, as well as changes in our personal rituals. Firstly, I must say that I have been reflecting on the definition of “ritual.” What makes something “ritualistic”? What defines a habit differently than a ritual? I have learned to consider a ritual as something habitual, easily practiced, and intentional. Rituals do not need a sacred component, but there should be meaning/purpose behind the practice.
In my own life, I have noticed a change in rituals of personal space/togetherness, as well as rituals involving bodies. I remember that when the U.S. first started instilling precautions for COVID, because no one knew how the disease was transmitted, we cut off all connections with people out of fear and safety. Schools went online; people began working from home; restaurants began closing their doors; churches stopped meeting together. While I was still going into work because I work in the hospital, we were heavily cloaked in garments, goggles, and gloves to mitigate necessary interaction with other people. These precautions, while necessary, impacted the world emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, both as individuals and communities. People require community and connection, and for so long we have communed and connected ritualistically in certain ways. The pandemic has made those ways unfeasible and unsafe, so we are having to redefine our rituals of togetherness. I joke that if anyone–including family and close friends–stands within six feet of me I feel uncomfortable because, honestly, it feels violating and unsafe. At work, we have to wear masks and PPE to make our presence unimpactful and virtually invisible toward others. And while before the pandemic we sought to make impacts on others and largely did so through our physical presence, we now try to make ourselves as unimposing as possible.
My rituals of togetherness have changed throughout the COVID pandemic. I no longer connect with my church community in person, and I have attended seminary classes mostly online since March 2020. I rarely leave my house without a mask on my face, so much so that when I do, I do things like forget to smile! As per class discussions with Dr. Carvalhaes, these began as “rituals of survival,” but I have started to redeem togetherness toward a ritual of thriving. I have learned to love people through different means than physical touch and make people feel welcomed and together in spaces without close physical presence. Our rituals have shifted in our means of loving and being loved, but we have become resilient nonetheless.
With rituals of embodiment and involving bodies, I have personally become more in tune with my body throughout the pandemic. I started working out and/or creating movement practices, such as running, lifting weights, yoga, and taking barre classes online. It has now become part of my morning routine that centers and grounds me. For this reason, I appreciated Dr. Carvalhaes’ exercise of music, dancing, and embodiment. It allowed me to participate in moving my body as worship, individually in my home and communally through our Zoom class. It was encouraging to see others moving “alongside” me and participating in the ritual of movement. Embodiment is an important communal and individual practice that I have honed throughout the pandemic, and I look forward to continuing it as a ritual.