In almost every culture in history, momentous events were observed with great fanfare. Vibrant rituals marked rites of passage. Colourful ceremonies helped people prepare for life’s journeys. Communities held close, sharing both the joy and the pain that comes with change.
Some of these historical practices remain today. Others have faded away.
“Any action that speaks to the soul and to the deep imagination, whether or not it also has practical effects, is ritual.” Thomas Moore, The Education of the heart
“To be human is to keep rattling the bars of the cage of existence hollering, ‘What’s it for?’” Robert Fulghum
Some people deem that ritual makes no sense in our modern world, and is therefore irrelevant. Even the terminology has suffered bruising. Today, “ceremony” is often equated with “nap time” or “obligation.” The word “ritual” creates images of dancing wildly in the forest with wood chips in your hair.
No wonder that many choose to skip over major life events today without a second thought. Yet, we’re now experiencing more change than at any other point in history. Our lives are longer, fuller, and faster. There’s no time for wood chips in the forest (even if you wanted them).
It’s true we have (and juggle) so much. Yet for many of us, the bigger questions nag.
Our search for meaning
“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” Joseph Campbell
For some of us, there’s a growing search going on. A search for new ways to deepen our connection with life itself. This search often peaks at life’s turning points.
During our times of thirst, we want to burst our chains of isolation and step out of the everyday hubbub. We want to make sense of what’s happening in our world. We crave more relevance. We seek connection, and ways to express ourselves authentically. We want to slow things down. To mark the turning point and honour the people. To capture the moments like a camera captures images. Sometimes parties don’t quite take the cake (although they are a nice ingredient).
Ceremony and ritual, when relevant and well-fitted, do all of these things. They help us mark our journey, to stay in the moment, and deeply experience the threshold upon which we are standing. Ritual empowers us, because it gives us some sense of control in the midst of change. It expresses who we are to the community around us, so that it can hold and share with us the joy and the pain that change inevitably brings.
Our lives become richer and more vibrant when we celebrate in meaningful ways. And then, of course, we eat cake.