Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I've been thinking about the comfort I take in rituals and habits lately, not least because of the funeral I went to on Monday but certainly not solely either.

It began when I heard Alain de Botton being interviewed on ABC radio's Conversation Hour about his new book, Religion for Atheists. Now, this isn't the sort of title I'd normally jump at but a lot of what he was saying made sense to me, particularly when it came to creating a sense of community. He seemed to be suggesting (and I haven't yet read the book) the rituals of religion give people a reason to come together in a way that doesn't exist elsewhere.

While secular society has other get-togethers, such as sporting clubs, baby groups or school communities, you have to have a common interest to belong to one of those groups and often those interests won't span socio-economic groups like religious gatherings can. I'm pretty sure I don't know any financially strapped yachties, for instance.

He wasn't suggesting anyone not religiously inclined suddenly turn to God (de Botton is an atheist himself). Rather, that society should borrow or steal similar rituals (taking belief out of the equation) and use them in a secular way. Not unlike the way Christmas is successfully celebrated by making it a time about family and friends.

Monday's funeral was a case in point for me. It was a secular ceremony and friends and family ran the service so every word uttered was by someone who knew Jeremy well. They painted a lovely picture, which was colourfully added to later with a wake in the family's (cul-de-sac) street. It was a beautiful goodbye.

I'm no Alain de Botton but I do take comfort in many of the small rituals of our life. Every morning, my husband brings me a cup of tea, and I see that as a small gesture of love. I've no time for commercial festivals like Valentine's Day but many years of morning tea speak the world to me.

As does the daily gathering of doves on the back fence waiting for my (and the seeds I'm carrying) arrival. The way that every afternoon the sun falls on our rangy and rather scruffy old grevilleas and makes them glow is another small constant that warms my heart.

Life can be very short, so I'm determined to take more notice of every bit of it while I can.


  1. I read an interview wit alain on the guardian newspaper website and i'm really keen to get hold of that book too. Have you ever read celebrating the southern seasons by juliet batten? A book about nature based ritual for southern hemispherers who struggle with secular holidays ie easter out of season. A little hippyfied but still interesting reading for those who find happiness in simple, small things x

  2. Brilliant truths and sentiments echoed in a conversation I had at a christening just a couple of weeks ago.

    Reading the comment above I'll also be seeking out Juliet Battens book too - thank you Max.

    Happy day!

    1. I think a christening is a perfect example, Felicity. Also the idea of godparents, as in the formal acknowledgment of a bond between people you care about and your child. Maybe I should have been born French, as they seem to have rules and ways of doing things for everything. I'm sure they could sort this out!

  3. Have to admit that I've never even heard of the book, Max. I like that people are talking about this stuff, though, as I find it really interesting.

  4. hi vera
    your last post came a day before we said goodbye to a lovely friend taken 4yrs after being diagnosed with brain cancer. It has been an excruciatingly painful time as you will understand.
    The service was incredible with speeches from 2 of her sisters and 2 friends she had known since primary school, however it was the burial that gave me some sense of peace. Anna is Chinese, and the rituals performed at the cemetery by her mum and aunts were so deeply respectful and beautiful I felt grateful and honoured to be a part of it. Thankyou for such a beautiful post, and Im sure the community surrounding Jeremy's family will be able to help them ease their pain as time goes by.

  5. Interesting post, Vera. As a Christian I find the notion of an atheist "borrowing" from religion a little humorous :) - but I think I have already established my humour is a bit left of center! It is the common belief in God and Jesus that bring Christians of diverse backgrounds together. One God, but many different parts make up the Church (in the Bible this is compared to the different parts of the body, all needed to make the body work, but all so very different). I believe we are made to live together in community, and the rituals we follow help remind us what is most important to us. xx T