Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest. Antione St. Exupery
I have been quoting this poem a lot recently. I mentioned a portion of it in my last LiM2 blog about creating shared meaning in relationships. Saturday, I read it in its entirety at my dad’s memorial service. Today, I am sharing a bit of it with you.
Why is this poem so important to me? Why do I think it is important for you? Because I believe in the power of rituals to orient and transform us, and I believe that through good, healthy rituals we have the power to expand ourselves and therefore our worlds. I have written about rituals before. In my book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, (Morehouse Press, 2013) I write about attending a bar mitzvah and the power of that ritual and rite of passage. In my “other” blog, I have written about a couple of rituals in my marriage that keep us centered. If we sat together in conversation, I could tell you about numerous times in my life when ritual changed me.
I believe in the power of rituals to orient and transform us.
So just what am I talking about when I use the word ritual? And what is a rite of passage?
A ritual can be described as a prescribed or choreographed sequence of gestures, words, or objects designed to influence spiritual or preternatural forces on behalf of those enacting the activity. So a church service is a ritual, but so can Thanksgiving dinner be a ritual, or planting the first harvest, or solstice celebrations. A ritual, then, is mindful. Is intentional. Should matter. It is mindfulness in action.
A rite of passage is a ritual that marks the transition in life from one status to another. For instance, we might be marking the rite of passage from childhood to adolescence, or from adolescence to adulthood. We also might mark the transition from single living to partnered life, or from no children to children. In some cultures it is helpful to mark the transition to the wisdom years, sometimes known as eldering rituals, and the ritual of a funeral or memorial service helps us transition to life without the loved one. So funerals, too, are rites of passage for those grieving their loved one.
Our current culture is sorely devoid of healthy community rituals. In the first half of the 2oth century, the church was the foremost supplier of rituals and of rites of passage. Baptism, brisses, communion, confirmation, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals are rites of passage, rituals designed to highlight the ending of one stage of life and the beginning of another. Now, depending on what statistics you read, close to 50% of the population is uninvolved with traditional/organized religion, and our culture has few rites of passage. Scouting has provided some important ones: bridging over, Eagle Scout awards and annual camping trips. Our children have ceremonies at schools, from kindergarten graduation to bridging to middle school, and high school graduations. A good right of passage instills in the participants an ending of an old way of being and a readiness and responsibility for the new stage of life.
A good right of passage instills in the participants an ending of an old way of being and a readiness and responsibility for the new stage of life.
Unfortunately, for many middle class adolescents, the only rites of passage they know is being allowed to go to the mall, getting their driver’s license and perhaps a first car. For some less fortunate, the most important rite of passage is joining a gang. What rituals are missing that would help our children and our culture transition through appropriate developmental stages and into meaningful and responsible adult life? Could we offer rites of passage that would be truly transformational.
A good friend of mine had a croning ceremony on her 60th birthday. It was a sober yet celebratory event. Surrounded by her friends, family, and colleagues, we called upon her to bring her hard-earned wisdom to the world. We called out her gifts. We said we needed her to be a wise elder and mentor. We needed her to step into a new stage of life and take her rightful place with the other wise ones. I am remembering this ritual, almost 13 years ago, as I get closer to my 60th birthday. I will enter that time without my father or my mother alive. I am the next generation. Love is crossing the gulf from my parents to me. It will be my turn to step up. I am thinking now about a ritual that may help me mark that transition and make it easier.
Life is messy, Friends. Good rituals, and meaningful rites of passage help us stay grounded and orient us to the greater good.