I made a comment in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group after my last post that, really, rituals and devotionals only take up <5% of my life. Most of my practice is just that, living my life.
I meant it, but it appeared to come as a surprise for some people. I mean, how I live my life is far more important that the few hours a week I spend with Brigid. Those who have grown up within Christianity (or I suppose other organised religions as well) will be well aware of the concept of “Sunday Christians” (or whatever the equivalent in other religions is). These are the people dressed up in the finest, first into the church every Sunday, last out, always monetarily supporting the church, very obviously pious and praying and all the rest of it. And if you were stuck, as my Nana used to say, they’d not give you the steam off their piss.
That’s not the sort of person I want to be. I’m not perfect and I never will be, but for me, religion is not about the appearances. It shouldn’t be anyway and the prevalence of this sort of thinking is worrying in the modern world. Has probably led to the significant falling away in numbers from Catholicism in Ireland at least. (I’ve written about this before on the blog, go and have a look if you want to know more about about it)
That hour on a Sunday in Mass (for Catholics, and let’s face it in Ireland, anything over 35mins is really considered excessive!), or the time I spend with Brigid in spiritual practice is for me essentially. It’s for me to improve my spiritual life. And that’s a worthy cause in and of itself. But one hour a week is 0.5% of your time. It’s not enough to balance out all the rest of the time.
How we live our lives is so much more important than the time we spend in ritual. Ritual is important, yes, and it has it’s place. As does learning about our deities, figuring out their role originally and how that might have developed over time. As does learning prayers and hymns and poems, or indeed creating such prayers and hymns and poems. Yes it’s hugely important.
But what effect are you having in this world? It doesn’t have to be massive. And it’s harder with paganism because frankly, get 2 pagans in a room and on any given topic, you’ll end up with at least 3 opinions in my experience. We don’t have an official universal code of ethics as succinct as the Ten Commandments (while I associate these with Catholicism, I’m almost certain they were stolen from Judaism and changed, but I’m open to correct from people better equipped to deal with it) We don’t have black-and-white answers to most things. You have to, gods forbid, think about your morals and your ethics and how you live your life.
We were never promised easy when embarking on a course of spirituality outside of mainstream religion. It means we have to decide for ourselves what our morals and ethics are. Some things seem easy – killing another human being is wrong. Sure. But what about self defence (and no, seriously, that is not any form of support for that horrific display in the States judicial system a few weeks ago!) What if you kill 1 person instead of 5? What if it’s accidentally? Taking a life should take a toll on us, but there are situations when I can see myself doing it.
Most pagans aren’t attending a ritual once a week, in the same way Catholics are meant to attend Mass once a week. Our spiritual rituals are on longer time frames usually, particularly for community based things. So, we’re probably looking at less than 5% of our time in formal spiritual engagement. If we assume most people need about 8hrs sleep a night; even if someone doesn’t have a formal paying job, they’ll have work that needs to get done that takes at least 40 hrs a week, there’s shopping and food prep and all sorts of things. Even if we’re generous and we say we spend 1hr a day on spiritual practices, that’s 4% of our lives.
The way we do the other stuff, the daily living stuff, will have way more impact in the world for most of us than that 4%. OK, if Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos suddenly decided to use their wealth to pay off all debt in the world or focus on world hunger or something as a spiritual practice, that might have a massive effective in their 1 hour a day. But most of us don’t have that influence.
Where we do have influence is in the little things. Sending a friend a hug cos they need it. Standing up, even when it’s uncomfortable when someone is being racist or sexist or transphobic or whatever. Buying someone a coffee or a meal. Making sure we source our food as ethically as we can afford and can access. (We’re blessed in Ireland with food, but there are many, many places in this world that are not in that situation as I’m well aware!) Look at the clothing we wear and how it was made/ sourced (again, affordability and accessibility).
There is no clear set of rules or limits. And sometimes, when you come from a place of privilege, someone else’s boundaries seem like gatekeeping or just being mean. Sometimes, we can’t do the right thing as we see it because of something else. But we do our best and we do better next time.
Life isn’t simple and easy. It’s messy. It’s blood and bone and hearth and home. It’s what happens to us when we’re busy making plans. It’s what seems to last forever until it doesn’t. But we’re here now in this life and it’s up to us to do our best. Some days that might mean doing a great good, healing someone, giving someone access to something that will improve their lives. Sometimes it’s deciding not to punch someone…
The rituals and the formal occasions are good and necessary and vital for community building and all the rest. But it’s the rest of the time that makes the difference.