Traditions are customs, ways of doing things, that we give symbolic significance. They are passed down through generations and upheld through repeated reenactment. I write a lot about sacred and magic traditions. I also recommend many different routines you could add to your life to make it more magical. There is tremendous power in traditions and routines.
As a young person, I longed for tradition. My mother was an only child and, after age 8, I was the only child in the household (I have half-siblings with eight- and ten-year age differences). I didn’t have a lot of cousins or aunts and uncles, nor large family gatherings to attend. The two of us didn’t participate in organized religion together, and, because of changing financial situations, we moved homes and schools every few years. I felt a lack of roots and consistency.
I still crave traditions and routines. They make me feel safe, secure, and settled. I know this about myself, and I have, over the years, explored ways to add more tradition and routine to my life. I recently re-acquainted myself with aspects of the Christian faith, something I had stepped away from while still in high school. At the time, it didn’t align with my queer feminist spirit.
I was drawn back towards a form of Christianity by accident. I went away for a weekend to get some writing done on my novel. I stayed at a Quaker Retreat just outside of Philadelphia. For three days, I didn’t speak to another person. It seemed that many of the attendees had taken weekend vows of silence, and those that were speaking were off in their own groups. I didn’t mind at all. I actually found it really refreshing to just be with my own thoughts for such an extended period of time.
When I wasn’t writing, I walked around the acres and trails of the wooded property. I wandered into the historic Quaker Meeting House where I found some pamphlets about Quaker spirituality. I have had a lifelong interest in comparative religion, so I bought some pamphlets and took them back to my rather spartan dorm room to read (and procrastinate on the writing I had come to do). I was quickly taken in by what I read, and felt in alignment with the Quaker values of equality, simplicity, integrity, community, and peace.
When I returned home, I started attending the Quaker meeting in my neighborhood. In Philadelphia, there are Quaker Meeting Houses in every neighborhood– ours is a new building with a beautiful skyspace art installation by contemporary light artist James Turrell. My first time visiting, I felt a very unexpected sense of peace and connection. I attended Meeting almost every Sunday for over a year. I felt both renewed and moved during the weekly, mostly silent, hour of worship, waiting to hear the still small voice of God from within. That silent hour was one of the highlights of my week.
But then I went to visit an Episcopal church in my neighborhood, just to make sure the Society of Friends was the right place for me. I walked into a beautiful stone building with arches, dark wooden beams, and stained glass windows. A bell rang three times and children, dressed in white gowns, holding tall white candles, walked down the aisle. Men and women in robes followed and the congregants all sat down in unison. There was singing, there was a choir, there was call and response, there was the Eucharist– the tradition of Holy Communion– and there was history, so much history, evident in every action unfolding around me. I thought, “Uh oh.”
There was a big storm, with rain, thunder, and lightning crashing outside, the first time I visited that church, and that really only heightened the sacred atmosphere of what was happening within. It felt familiar, so similar to the Catholic mass my grandparents took me to as a child, but also kind of confusing. This wasn’t what I thought I was looking for. But, even though I haven’t found myself reconciled or aligned with the entirety of beliefs espoused at my church, the order, routines, customs, candles, songs, sacred architecture, and rich history speaks to me on a very primal level.
Part of the reason I continue to go to this church, I tell myself, is to understand the various aspects of tradition, and think about how and why they work, like an anthropological study. But, honestly, it is more that. It makes me feel something… It makes me feel connected, safe, and held. Since you did not have my exact background, your mileage may vary. But for me, and, obviously, for many many people throughout history, traditions and routines are integral to seeing the magic and creating the sacred in their daily lives.