Ceremony Transforms Patterns

I’ve been listening to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer https://bit.ly/2XpVbaA and thinking about ceremony. The book is about change, or maybe loss. It is about plants, or maybe children. It is about an overgrown pond with a future, an abandoned house with a heart, and water lilies that depend on community to survive in the dark. This already, and I’m not even half-way through the book. I can hardly wait to finish it, but I’ll contain my urgency and savor each minute. Why? Because all these themes seem extremely poignant today.

Loss is all around us. We mourn individual sickness and death, while natural disasters take people by the hundreds and thousands. We watch today’s political theater in horror and sadness, while struggling to learn, somehow, to account for our wrongs of the past.    

At the same time, our traditional support systems are crumbling. Personal, social, spiritual, and political rituals used to help us process the complex pain and overwhelming disruption of change. Today, though, those habits and structures are transforming, too. At the very time when we need the comfort of touch and familiar celebrations, we are locked in our homes, depending on spiritual and community safety nets that grow more ragged by the day. 

Robin (I think she would want me to call her by her name) is helping me imagine a way through this time of turbulence and uncertainty. Drawing on her indigenous heritage, that path looks like ceremony.

In my rural, Methodist, West Texan youth, ceremony meant baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Maybe we could throw in pep rallies and graduations, but there wasn’t much else. We didn’t need much else. These were choreographed events. While each was unique, they were reassuringly always the same. They marked transitions with a sense of belonging and security. We could care for others in habitual ways and be cared for in return. Change was difficult then, too. Mourning and loss were never easy, but at least they could be contained in the ceremony of community.

Today, I don’t have access to those in-person community-wide events. I’m not sure they’d be sufficient for the kinds of change we experience today, anyway. Instead, I feel a pull toward ceremony-in-the-moment. In baking, the arts, social media, and old familiar movies with popcorn, I experience a moment of reflection that puts some of the pieces back together again. I see others rise to amazing creativity as they mark passages.  

  • A moment of silence as meetings open to acknowledge pain, suffering, and hope for ourselves and others 
  • A trip half-way across the country to host a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of assisted suicide
  • Perfect autumn peaches consumed with juicy gusto
  • Daily inquiry sessions, where people bring their wicked issues and leave with the gifts of community and insight
  • An online reunion of what is left of the 46 who graduated with me 45 years ago
  • An at-home stitching retreat
  • Daily connections and innovative events to celebrate the “Summer of Art and Love”
  • A year-long stream of haiku, captured in art and reflection

Each of these moments allows us to zoom out for context or zoom in for content. These sparks of creativity and care help us realize we are not alone.  We learn how this journey of transformation touches us all, and touches each in different ways. I think we all know this time of trauma is far from over. I am trusting we will discover or invent ceremonies to help us thrive in turbulence and uncertainty today and tomorrow.

What connections feed and heal you? What ceremonies bring you peace?

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