July 21, 2014

Rituals: A Shared Experience

I’m writing this in Uberlandia, which is a place I may never have visited if I hadn’t married Denise, who is Brazilian. It’s a city of about 600,000 located in south central Brazil. Although Denise and I were married in March, we gathered here with her large extended family so that some of those who couldn’t come to New York could bless our marriage.

Now, I do not speak any Portuguese. Some of Denise’s family members speak English while the majority know just a few phrases. I spent a lot of the weekend smiling and saying the two or three phrases I know in Portuguese.

Communication, I was reminded, is more than vocabulary and grammar. Soon, I will need to learn Portuguese, but it was enough, for now, that I show up and we make an effort to show gratitude and love to each other.

Often, when speaking with people I don’t know extremely well, I worry about getting the words just right. Occasionally, I don’t say anything at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. Sometimes this is a good strategy, but often a large part of good communication involves showing up and making an effort. Saying something is often better than saying nothing.

This is especially true in the context of community, which, at its best, is built on a foundation of love and a desire to connect with others and with God. Making an effort demonstrates a desire to know the other person, however imperfectly.

During the weekend we had a simple ceremony, which involved a few prayers and a short Scripture reading. Our rings were passed around so that everyone there could hold them and say a prayer for us, something we did at our church when we were first engaged. I could not understand many of the words that were spoken, but the ritual communicated clearly.

Ritual is another way that we come together to share our faith and ourselves. It’s a shared language we can use when we do not have the exact words or completely understanding.

We may not have the same vocabulary and we may not even have the same understanding of the vocabulary we do share, but in community and through our shared rituals we can come a little closer together despite our differences. First, however, we have to show up and make an effort.