In my community we spend most of our time doing three things: preparing for rituals, participating in rituals, and recovering from rituals. —Malidoma Patrice Some’
If you have been my friend, client, or colleague; if you have read either of my books; if you have been close to my extended family; if you have been in my close knit group of friends; if we have ever attended church together, then you know how strongly I believe in the power and necessity of community rituals. I have used the quote from Malidoma Some’ multiple times, because I cannot find a more apt one. If you have one up your sleeve, please send it to me!
After a year of pandemic living and of not gathering in small or large groups, in the past month I have had the poignant pleasure of attending two festive community rituals. Here’s how each of them inspired me for different reasons.
Gathering for Community Rituals
On the Sunday of Pentecost—50 days after Easter—Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and tell the story of people speaking many differing languages yet being able to understand each other—imagine that! ( Acts 2:1-13) This year, on Pentecost Sunday, I attended the final church service for a special priest and dear friend of mine, The Reverend Mark Abdelnour. Pentecost tends to be a big service in many churches. Acolytes process with flags or banners bearing symbols of the Spirit. The Gospel text may be read by multiple parishioners speaking in differing languages all at the same time. Red is the color of the day and the “fire” of the Spirit is on display. Sometimes churches have picnics after the service. And so it was at this service for my friend and for his retirement, just amped up a few volts!
This community worked behind the scenes for weeks, I am told, to make this an extra special Pentecost. The altar was beautifully adorned. The organist had quite the line-up of “big” organ music. The choir gave their all. Gifts, speeches, tears, prayers, and singing were shared abundantly. Family had traveled from cities across the nation to be with Mark to celebrate. Children, grandchildren, aging parents, friends, nieces and nephews, and other special guests filled the pews. And then, after the service, there was a food extravaganza so everyone could gather, share, and connect. I was a visitor, but I could tell this community had given its all, had spent itself on this very important ritual of gratitude, of leave-taking, of love and grief.
The Blessings Of a Marriage
Another important ritual happened on Friday, June 4th. My daughter got married! Twenty-four people gathered for an intimate weekend, and it was an extravaganza of love, support, gratitude, toasts, and vows. One of her friends walked blocks in the rain to get to the welcome dinner, and several of her friends filled the bridal suite with balloons and flowers. Many people spent a good amount of time and money traveling to be a part of supporting, loving, and toasting this new marriage. Wonderfully, every detail was carefully attended to.
I felt a sense of total presence, of a unity of people coming together and joining in this web of love and abundance. One of the wait staff at the reception venue commented on how close the small group of us seemed. “It seems like such an intimate gathering. Like you all are already friends.” Yes, we were there giving our all to this meaningful event.
Rituals require much of us. We give ourselves to them. We spend/sacrifice time, money, effort, and sometimes tears. Our energy is poured into something beyond ourselves to create a new thing. And this new thing is bigger than we are individually. This new thing gives us hope. We believe again that what we do in the world matters, that together we are better than we are alone. We believe again, that the messy will be filled by the marvelous, and that it is worth all the effort to create and participate in that. And that, my friends, inspires me. It literally fills me with breath.
The word remember is composed of two parts. The prefix re, which means again or back, and the root word memor which means mindful. So remember means to bring to mind again, or to keep in mind. And that is exactly what happened at these two community gatherings; we re-membered what it was like to be together again. And holy moly did it feel important to me.
The loss of rituals
A client of mine has struggled with the grief of too many loved ones dying from CoVid. He said three different times during our first session together “You know, there was no receiving line. Even though our pastors did a great job, as good as could be, over Zoom, you know, Amy, it just isn’t the same.”
During CoVid, we have all mourned the touch of those we love and who love us. And we have grieved the loss of funerals and weddings, of bar mitzvahs and baptisms. It just isn’t the same when the receiving line isn’t there, friend after friend hugging you, wiping your tears and theirs, and offering a story about your loved one. It isn’t the same when you can’t hear others singing or praying with you and for you.
Julia Sibley-Jones, a friend I count myself blessed to know, writes a blog at www.theunchartednow.org. She is a poetic, lyrical writer and a deep thinker as well. And hey, you should subscribe to her once-a-month blogs that are always worth the read. Anyway, her dad died during 2020, and her family missed the ritual of a funeral. In her recent blog, The Promise of Living, she recounts the weekend when friends and family could finally gather together to honor her father. She says,
“We remembered Daddy together. Different stories from different times and places, different perspectives, all with great feeling. One great pandemic loss was not being physically surrounded by friends and family during Daddy’s illness and death. I never felt alone or uncared-for. But I missed the shear physicality of presence.”
As with my client, the shear physicality of presence was a missing element in the grief. You see, the re-membering that a community does during times of great love and great loss matters.
As Rhea mentioned last week when she wrote about being inspired by touch in this almost-post-pandemic-vaccinated time, after the Pentecost/retirement service for my friend, I said to my husband, “I didn’t realize how much I needed to celebrate a festival day. I feel inspired.” And although wedding weekends can be so emotional and exhausting, that weekend was inspiring as well. Why? Because I breathed in all the presence, all the love and friendship, all the meaning I possibly could. So as things are re-opening, I hope you will find ways to re-member, to create and participate in meaningful rituals that fill you with hope and a belief that there is indeed the marvelous after the messy.
I have a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. A few years ago my book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. I am passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, writing, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com
You can email me at [email protected]
*Even though I used an Amazon link here, I highly encourage you to order from your local bookstore. Here in Columbia that is Odd Bird Books. Tell Ben we sent you!
WE WROTE A BOOK! AND THERE IS ANOTHER ONE ON THE WAY!
(And we think it is beautiful!)
No one is too young or too old to develop or refine your Adulting Skills!