The churches I grew up in didn’t talk much about ritual. When I heard discussion among the grownups (or maybe in Sunday School talking about other religions, I don’t remember for sure) the more ritualized religions were talked about as if they were all just going through the motions with no thought or intention at all. Maybe some of the grownups had experience in a more liturgical form of Christianity and thought it was boring … I really don’t know. But somehow I got the idea that ritual was not a good thing.
Still, our church did have a ritual, even if they didn’t call it that. It was Communion. And they would do it once a quarter, more or less. When I was a kid though, it was my favorite thing we ever did at church, and I wished we could do it every Sunday like the Catholics. Even though, unlike the Catholics, we used grape juice instead of wine and believed that the cracker was a symbol of the body of Christ, not that it literally changed in some magical — and undetectable — way. All the same, when the ritual passage was being read, and the grape juice and the cracker were eaten at the proper moment, I actually imagined eating the meal with Jesus Christ at the end of time after the awaited Second Coming.
I took it seriously, too. Even as an atheist, when I went to church to please my parents once and they (unexpectedly) had the Communion service, I respected the ritual enough to refuse to do it. It felt wrong to participate as a non-believer. It’s not like anyone else there would know or care, and I wasn’t concerned about offending a God I was convinced was not real. But it felt like an offense to myself, down to my core. So I sat angrily in the pew while everyone else went up, because I felt at the time like I had been tricked into this awkward situation. To my amazement, to this day I still don’t think anyone there understood or would understand what my issue was.
The Communion service was my early introduction to ritual, and it connected with me. One of the main things that has drawn me toward a pagan path is the prominence of ritual acts and active participation. The use of imagination, and music, and ritual objects, and poetic and mythological imagery speaks to me in a way that an intellectual discussion of spirituality never could.