Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Five: Celebrating the Seasons of Life

Sally at RevGals writes:
“It is the first of May, or as I have been concentrating on dialogue with folk interested in the new spirituality movement this last week, it is Beltane, a time to celebrate the beginning of summer. The BBC web-site tells us that:

Beltane is a Celtic word which means 'fires of Bel' (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.
Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Another advert for a TV programme that has caught my eye on the UK's Channel 4 this weekend is called Love, Life and leaving; and is a look at the importance of celebrating the seasons of life through ritual and in the public eye, hence marriages, baptisms and funerals.

I believe that we live in a ritually impoverished culture, where we have few reasons for real celebration, and marking the passages of life;


1. Are ritual markings of birth marriage and death important to you?
Okay, I’m going to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with ritual. Part of me loves the ritual of the Catholic and Anglican traditions, for instance, and the other part was raised with Southern Baptist suspicion of all that paraphernalia and repetition. I grew up with very little in the way of ritual. My parents did nothing special to celebrate either my high school or college graduations. Nothing. They did not attend my wedding. Birthdays were nothing special once I was out of childhood. My mother’s funeral was a straightforward Baptist funeral with the usual rituals of a viewing and a service. No graveside parting that I remember.

The brother closest to me in age is a Catholic convert. My nephew’s funeral (last November) was very moving and beautiful. The rituals of genuflection, the funeral liturgy, the songs, the eucharist – I thought these all supported genuine mourning and drew the family and friends together in a community of faith. It was a real goodbye, a solemn remembrance of his gifts to that community. It is unfortunate that the Catholic communion is closed, because it did rather pointedly exclude all his relatives on our side of the family.

2. Share a favourite liturgy/ practice.
Since I have almost no familiarity with liturgy, I’m not sure what to say. When I’ve attended Episcopal services, I’ve always liked the way that they served communion—kneeling at the altar rail. I like that act of reverence as opposed to the walk-by communion at our church.

3. If you could invent (or have invented) a ritual what is it for?
Not a clue. I’m hopeless at trying to conceive these on my own.

4. What do you think of making connections with neo-pagan / ancient festivals? Have you done this and how?
Given that Christmas and Easter are already entwined with pagan festivals, I don’t see the problem with this. I know that mix bothers some and they will go to any lengths to disassociate themselves from the pagan elements. Not me. On the other hand, I would feel like a complete idiot dancing around a maypole. It seems so RenFaire kitschy.

Of course, you don’t have to go neo-pagan to incorporate seasonal festivals. Judaism has plenty. Why Christians can’t look further than the Seder is beyond me. Not that I’m busy setting up Sukkoth tents – you need a group for a festival. And messianic synagogues are a little….sketchy.

5. Celebrating is important, what and where would your ideal celebration be?
I really am very stunted when it comes to celebrations. It’s sad. Not to engage in a pity-party, but a lifetime of depression and anxiety makes it very difficult to see the world in a celebratory way. I tend to think more in terms of endurance than enjoyment. We are supposed to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, and I know that Dear Husband will be the one with the vision, which may include a big party. He enjoys parties. To celebrate this particular event, I think I would just like to be alone with him somewhere pretty—a mountain trail or a lonely beach (if such a thing is possible) and just be. I hope that I get better at this. It’s too bad there is no class in how to celebrate.

I think this is why the Episcopal church interests me – it comes with pre-fabricated rituals! For whatever reason, whether it’s ADD or some other issue, I cannot organize time unless told what to do. I like and need structure, but I cannot create it myself.


  1. Your answer to #1 is true for so many people...and yet it seems "society and culture" want us to believe that we should all do things the same and it is always "happy". I hear what you are saying.

  2. Oh, I so understand the A.D.D. thing... and that's probably part of the reason I really love well-done rituals myself, because they take me out of my tailspin into nowhere-in-particular and help me feel anchored in a meaningful space and time.

    If you have a hard time feeling celebratory due to your personal history, celebratory rituals might actually be a good thing to try participating in. John Wesley believed, for example, that people should take communion whether or not they felt like doing it, because the act of participating opened people up to the Holy Spirit and the possibility of grace and change.

    Many rituals operate on this idea-- that a person's "stuckness" can be healed and transformed by the special nature of ritual time and space.

  3. I think you would find our Rabbi's comments in our May Bulletin to be interesting: I can't copy and paste it because it is pdf.

    Another thing which you may find interesting is that one of the themes of Purim is the importance of joy and celebration. The Scripture commands Purim to be a time of "joy" (Esther 9:22).
    Along with the joyous feast of this holy day, the central focus in the synagogue service is joy.
    During synagogue services the book of Esther is read aloud with dramatic re-enactments - every time Haman's name is read he is booed and noisemakers called groggers are rattled to drown out his name.
    Purim is one of the few synagogue holy days where normal decorum and seriousness are waived in order to enter into unrestrained joy. The atmosphere is geared to reflect the theme - deliverance.

  4. I love ritual myself (Duh, Episcopal Priest that I am!) I had never thought about the prepackaged thing, though, and the A.D.D. association. I should have though, my oldest son has a real serious A.D.D. problem.

  5. Thanks, everyone. You've given me much to mull over! Particularly like the ideas about "stuckness." We saw the African Children's Choir at our church over the weekend. Such joy from children who have undergone suffering I'll never know.

  6. 1. Birthdays entail cake, and every year on the anniversary of Lightsaber's and Tiger's deaths, I spend the day going through old photos of them. (They were cats, by the way.)

    2. Er... I brush my teeth three times a day and I always check my email. Those are practices, right?

    3. Well, I've found that changing the bed every other week can be considered a mind-numbing ritual.

    4. I've done it through writing.

    5. Another day of living again.