“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.