When I was growing up I learned the rituals not from a book, not from a professor, not web, not a video and definitely not on TV. I learned the rituals for my family faith traditions from participating in them with my parents. My dad taught me the rituals of baseball. My mom taught me rituals of church.
My hope is that we recognize that our rituals are natural and serve a purpose; they enable us to engage in a personal, intimate way with the worship of God and the baseball game itself.
The baseball rituals learned from home. We always learned and celebrated the day the Red Sox gear was packed up and shipped to Florida for spring training. In the dead of winter, we always knew opening day was going to happen (As if there was a risk it would not happen). Reading the Boston Globe sports section and listening to Bob Lobel on Channel 4 sports, we knew pitchers and catchers had begun their workouts. Before I knew it, I was practicing sliding, on the baseball diamond in the melting snow. In gymnasiums skills workshops had begun. There was a bond formed between all baseball players all around the country, at all age levels, and in all leagues. Baseball takes time. Baseball requires skill development, mental focus and endurance (especially when you live in the Northeast). I learned the game playing it, participating in it and watching it. Actually, we often listened to the games on the radio if the Red Sox had a TV blackout. We also learned when to cheer, when to boo, when to shout and when to be silent. For example, never speak to a pitcher when they come of off the mound, until the coach says they are finished for the night.
The baseball rituals were universal. Any field, any night, little league, college or pro, the rituals always guiding everyone from the start to finish: batting practice, snagging fly balls, in-field rounds, stretching and short sprints. Where you leave your glove, hat and bag are sacred decisions, never to be messed with by another person. To do so, was to break a covenant deep in every ball player's heart. How you put on your uniform, which undershirt you wore, etc. Every detail had a direct impact on the outcome of the game and your participation.
My mom brought me to church when I was young. We had to dress up, I only had one sport coat, it was a winter wool blue blazer – so my decisions were made easy. We always arrived early to get ready for Sunday school. Practice, practice. Singing in the choir, serving as an acolyte and helping mom with the altar guild tasks or preparing the flowers: they all required practice, time, patience and working with others. We always knew the season. The color codes make it easy. We always anticipated the next season especially if we had to check supplies or music or make liturgical movement changes. Soon, the actual worship rituals became part of my being, conscience and unconscious mind. As grew older, I went to worship in other churches, and found that most of the rituals the same, give or take a nuances. Once and awhile something new would be added (when to stand, sit, kneel, when to open ones hands, when to look up and when to look down. Before I could recall the words, the actual prayers: I was familiar with the act of ritual and I could participate without effort.
Rituals often start with the wardrobe, what to wear. Usually we wear what will bring good luck to the game and affirm our allegiance to the Red Sox. Red, "B", Hats, earrings and even your actual soxs are all part of the ritual. When you attend Fenway, even for the first time, you are instantly in a large, complex dance. Multiple rituals at the same time. Same as church, right? The ushers greet you. The ushers guide you to your seat or at least send you in the right direction. As you take your seat, your senses are on over drive: the smells, the lights, trying to anticipate what you will see, the sounds of voices, greetings and storytelling. And then the music starts. At Fenway, we all stand for the national anthem. We know to remove our caps. We know when to sing it or simply listen. We know to start the applause before it is over. We stand for the first pitch and then we sit. Then we watch. Soon we clap, or someone shouts "Go Sox" or "Ump – get glasses". We watch all nine players on the field, the batter and on-deck circle all at once. Amazing. We stand and sit, we "ooh and ahh" together. Inning after inning. At the 7thinning, we stand and we all sing "Take me out to the ball game". In the 8th we sing "Sweet Caroline". If there is foul ball that lands near you, everyone knows to wave the TV cameras. Then we quickly giv e a shout out: "give the ball to the cute kid". There is always a cute kid sitting near the person who caught the ball. The faithful stay until the final pitch. We call those "true fans of the game". What we eat and when matters. I start with a sausage sandwich in the 1st inning, Fenway frank in the 4th and sometime ice cream in the 7th. Did I mention the peanuts before the game?
At church, as we anticipate the start of the service, we look at the bulletin (the line up). We stand as one for the opening, processional (gathering hymn). At the processional cross passes the corner of your eye, your head bows. After the hymn, we have some call and response prayers and another song. Then we all sit at once. We watch the movement, all of it. We keep an eye on the reader or preacher too. Some of us listen, others pray and sing and others do both. It is all good. I was taught to mark the pages of the hymnal and prayer book, so I could reference those pages easily when the service arrived at the point. Like baseball, we often think about that to wear. Sometimes it is time to "dress up" and other times it is something more practical, like a soccer uniform or birding outfit or a warm sweater.
I could go on and on about the rituals of the faith community and attending a Red Sox game. I bet you could too. Again, my hope is that we recognize that our rituals are natural and serve a purpose; to enable us to engage in a personal, intimate way with worship of God or the baseball game itself.