Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why Bother With Ceremonies?

In Western culture by and large, ceremonies are not hugely valued these days.  The only time many people experience ceremonies is in the context of weddings and graduations.   And I don't know about you, but when I think of graduation ceremonies, I don't feel particularly inspired.  In fact, most of the ones I've attended have been downright boring.

We all know life is a journey -
take time to mark the milestones.
With weddings, there is often so much emphasis on external details like the cake, the dress, and the decor, that the ceremony can almost be an afterthought.  Typically, only five percent of the budget is spent on the actual ceremony (including the officiant's fee), even though it is in fact the central - and only crucial - part of a wedding!

Even when a loved one dies, many people nowadays don't see the point in having a funeral.  Much less do folks see the need for things like coming-of-age ceremonies or ceremonies for parents-to-be, new babies, and blessing and dedicating new homes. This de-emphasis on marking the passages of life through ceremonies is largely because fewer and fewer people are involved in a religious body - the traditional source of such ceremonies, of course. 

But I submit that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  A ceremony does not have to be religious to be valuable; in fact, the more it's personalized to the participants' own beliefs and style, the more effective it will be.

What do I mean by "effective"? you might ask.  Well, in the simplest terms, a ceremony, when done right, is a truly transformative experience.  Ceremonies that mark rites of passage can be more than just a symbolic representation of crossing a threshold - they can actually be the experience of crossing that threshold.  In some cases a ceremony is a great preparation for such a crossing, such as the blessing of a mother-to-be; when it comes time to give birth, the mother will actually be better prepared mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

A ceremony well done, with awareness and intention, is not an empty, superficial gesture.  It is the creation of an elevated - or sacred, if you will - space in which to connect fully with the story of one's own journey, which then, paradoxically perhaps, allows one to leave one chapter of that story behind and move into an unknown new one.  The ceremony creates a safe space for and spotlights that transition, that in-between moment in a way that the participant can surrender to and fully experience its mystery and transformative grace.