Whether it’s liturgy or speaking in tongues, or even “going through the motions”, perhaps these things are not as meaningless as they are sometimes accused of being.
A recent study that monitored the daily habits of couples in order to determine what produced good and stable marriages revealed that only one activity made a consistent difference, and that was the embracing of one’s spouse at the beginning and the end of each day. Most surprising to Paul Bosch, who wrote the an article about the study, was that “it didn’t seem to matter whether or not in that moment the partners were fully engaged or even sincere! Just a perfunctory peck on the cheek was enough to make a difference in the quality of the relationship.” Bosch comments, wisely, that this “should not surprise churchgoers. Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person – even if you’re not totally ‘engaged’ in every minute.”
So there. So much for control, or ever consciousness. let’s hear it for insincere, hurried kisses, and prayers made with a yawn. I may be dwelling on the fact that my feet hurt, or nursing some petty slight. As for the words that I am dutifully saying – “Love you” or “Dear God” – I might as well be speaking in tongues, and maybe I am. And maybe that does not matter, for it is all working toward the good, despite myself and my most cherished intentions. Every day and every night, whether I “get it” or not, these “meaningless” words and actions signify more than I know. Repetition… helps us to be more honestly and fully human. It knows us better that we know ourselves.
-Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, p.187