Sunday, June 14, 2009
Rituals and Rites of Passage
Still a little weirded out: my past week consisted of a vacation shortened by the death of a much beloved cousin. We returned home early for the funeral, followed the next day by the wedding of yet another cousin. Both events have made me want to spend more time with my extended family (80% of whom live in the same city as I do). Next week I have to deliver lectures on male and female sexuality, spiritual care and cultural care in nursing- hefty topics all. All these events have got me thinking about the significance of birth and death rituals (and those in between, like marriage). Since I teach on the subject, I've observed that all cultures have their own unique birth, marriage, and death rituals. (Black funerals are so very different than white funerals!) I've long been a proponent of celebrations and rituals (I throw myself a birthday party every year) and this coming weekend I head off to the Holy Land for a summer solstice celebration with Sister Morningstar. She is the queen of ritual creation (she actually creates rituals as part of her services at her retreat center.) Attending a funeral and wedding consecutively made me think about the impact of rituals, how they solidify memory, ease the pain of loss, encourage hope for the future, lighten the mood, and comfort the soul. Morningstar created a cleansing ritual for me at my request when I was pregnant in preparation for my 6th homebirth. I routinely encourage women I know to create rituals to acknowledge miscarriages, to celebrate friendships, to encourage fertility, to celebrate new love, to mourn love lost, to honor one's own self- rituals are appropriate for any occasion we think is worth marking. Rituals can be private or public. I have a small private ritual during my daily quiet time. I sit in Cielo Pequeno (small heaven- as I call my backyard garden) and read my inspirational text, sip a cup of hibiscus tea (my current favorite), light a scented candle, listen to the songbirds of early morning (I'm usually in the garden by 5:30 am) and do a little meditation of gratitude for what the day will bring. I encourage you Dear Readers, to create your own rituals, be they celebratory, commemorative, or rememorative, or restorative. Our lives and the people we share them with are worth celebrating. Sometimes we have a private ritual that we don't even know we are creating like my friend Rebecca did shopping for her 'power panties' (see Bye Bye Birdie). She may have unwittingly established a new divorce ritual! At the end of every OB course I teach, I give my students a luncheon and a Blessing of Hands ritual, a service happily provided by a local holy woman. She prays for the sick and dying in hospitals routinely as a part of her ministry and knows the importance of having nurses who understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Even my boss and other instructors rush down after the luncheon to get their hands blessed again at the end of every quarter! The last time, I watched as the only guy in the class, who had sternly resisted 'all things girly' during the OB rotation, waited nervously for the blessing of hands to begin. (I wasn't sure why he was so jittery- I always emphasize that the blessing is completely voluntary- many students do abstain, and it is only done once grades are posted- I don't want them to participate just to please me.) As the holy woman took his hands in her, rubbing them with the 'blessed oil' she keeps tucked in her purse, I watched in amazement as tears rolled down his cheeks and she pronounced her blessing and her 'inspired word of prophesy' upon the freshly anointed nurse. I can only imagine what that moment meant to him. I mark the occasion this way because I want them to remember it- and what it means in their own lives. So now Beloved, share with us all what rituals mark the passage of your days.