In his book Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue acknowledges the difficulty traditional religious institutions have in connecting with contemporary culture. He understands that there are good reasons why people may have a hard time finding “resonance in the way many of the rituals of institutional religion are practised.”

But O’Donohue goes on to question the popular alternative of those who, in response to the disconnect with traditional religious practices attempt to “develop their own rituals.”

O’Donohue argues that personal, private, individual rituals lack an essential ingredient. He suggests that

deeply resonant ritual emerges over years out of the rhythms of longing and belonging in a community. Great rituals create an imaginative and symbolic frame which can awaken numinous otherness, the tenderness, and the danger of the Divine. It is a subtle and infinitely penetrating form. Scattered, isolated individuals cannot invent ritual. Consumerism has stolen the sacred ritual structures of religion and uses them incisively in its liturgies of advertising and marketing. Meanwhile the post-modern soul becomes poorer and falls even further from the embrace and practice of sacred belonging. The great thing about a community at prayer is that your prayer helps mine — as mine helps yours. This makes no consumerist sense, but it is one of the most vivid enhancements of Being available to us. Individualism of the raw competitive kind is ignorant of this dimension.

from John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (p. 210-211)

For O’Donhoue “deeply resonant ritual” requires years “of the rhythms of longing and belonging in a community.” “Deeply resonant ritual” does not develop over night. It requires the time and patience of decades, perhaps centuries of faithfulness, perseverance and traveling together in the same direction.

Liturgy which has the strength of time has the capacity to enable human hearts to “awaken” to the “numinous otherness, the tenderness, and the danger of the Divine,” for the very reason that it was not created yesterday and it will not change tomorrow. We need to be able to settle into our worship, find in it that which is familiar, predictable, and reliable. It needs to connect us to a wider community than the small circle of people with whom we share relatively similar lives. So, “Scattered, isolated individuals cannot invent ritual.”

Worship is a container that gently harbours the human spirit. It ushers us into an awareness of the Divine because it holds us and provides room for every part of our being no matter how broken or confused those parts may be. Worship traditions that provide a sense of “sacred belonging” do so because they do not depend upon the latest taste or fashion. They transcend the moment and connect us to a stream of consciousness that transcends our personal tastes and the proclivities of our dominant culture.

When our expressions of worship are held captive to my personal taste, or are dictated by your wishes and desires, we are only engaged in a self-indulgent exercise of competing tastes. True worship demands that we transcend to some degree our own wishes and desires and join in a community of Being that transcends the consumerist mentality that is so dominant in our culture.

True worship does not exist to make me feel good. It exists to break open my heart to the tenderness and beauty that are my true nature and my greatest destiny. It takes a long tradition of practice, faithfulness and community to develop rituals with the power to fulfill the deep purpose of corporate worship.