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Communion, as seen here in Lafayette, is one of many church rituals. Science shows that rituals help the brain make sense of life, especially in uncertain times.

Ritual plays a large role in life.

Many people have a pattern they follow from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.

In religious life, rituals often become more formal, sometimes with special clothes and scents and sounds, and can be considered sacred acts rather than just tradition.

At the start of the pandemic, many rituals — such as graduations and weddings — were postponed, canceled or altered. 

In spring 2020, theconversation.com looked at the idea of ritual during crises.

Dimitris Xygalatas, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, wrote that in times of uncertainty, people across cultures tend to perform more rituals. He said that in a study he and colleagues performed, they found stress can lead people to become more rigid and repetitive in their behaviors, more ritualized.

Changes, he said, can cause anxiety because of how our brains are wired. And trying to adapt to the changes leads humans to rituals — predictable actions.

More than that, Xygalatas said ritual provides connections.

During the pandemic quarantine, he said many people were creating their own connections. Some were in direct response to lockdowns interfering with traditional rituals such as weddings. Others were rituals created to mark time as people spent more time indoors.

In Scientific America, Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton wrote that rituals can be rational: “Rituals performed after experiencing losses — from loved ones to lotteries — do alleviate grief; and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks — like singing in public — do, in fact, reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.”

The writers pointed to successful athletes who turn to superstitions before playing each game.

“The superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort — and improved subsequent performance. These findings are consistent with research in sport psychology demonstrating the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence.”

So how can a person, especially someone who doesn’t hold to a liturgical tradition, embrace rituals for spiritual purposes?

For some people, it could be as simple as taking a few minutes at a specific time to read sacred or inspirational works. It could be a time of meditation or yoga.

The magazine Spirituality & Health, in its Aug. 16 email newsletter, looked at several rituals.

Ideas presented in the newsletter included:

To see more ideas from the magazine, visit spiritualityhealth.com.

Facets of Faith runs every other Saturday in Living. Reach Leila Pitchford at lpitchford@theadvocate.com.