When I became a Life-Cycle Celebrant, even though I received certification in both weddings and funerals, I knew I didn’t want to get trapped in the chute of being just a wedding celebrant or just a funeral celebrant, or just any-one-kind of celebrant, for that matter.
I truly believe in the power of ritual and ceremony to carry us meaningfully across all sorts of thresholds in the course of our lives; the problem is, we have been cut off from the gristle and heart and soul of such things, so that many of our passages are followed by rote, by some pale shadow of what they could possibly be, because we don’t know any better or any different; we sometimes end up feeling like something is lacking, an unpleasant dry-ish taste in our mouths, without us knowing quite why. This is what I want to change, a celebration at a time.
What is more sterile, more rote, for example, than a high school or college graduation? They all look alike; they are all by-the-book identical, for the most part. And yet. And yet….it still brings a tissue to the eye of many a parent (I remember it did to mine), it moves those who are graduating – I would bet regardless how jaded the teenaged or young adult heart – into a jubilant sense of having passed over a threshold where things now really are different and changed forever. The process of walking up one set of stairs, across a stage (the liminal space), to then receive a diploma and shake hands with the school principal for the last time and leave the stage at the other side; moving that tassel from one side to the other, a shiver of finality; such is the power of ceremony, even the most banal.
On the fringes of the ceremonial world, then, are the more subtle and less overt occasions, but none the less important. Transitions like retiring from life-long employment, moving to a new home/leaving a family home, making the bold decision to build a new building in service of a dream and seeing it to completion. The latter is very much like a graduation, complete with pithy speeches and an action (traditional ribbon-cutting instead of moving tassels) that separates what was to what is now and moving forward. That symbolic crossing of a threshold. There is much cheering and applauding in both cases, because there is the feeling that it’s real. A tangible thing. And therein lies the magic.
But how to make something like a new building significant and individual and real? How to honor the uniqueness and the commonality at the same time?
I had the opportunity to do just that, about a week ago, at the official opening of The Urban Grange at Zenger Farm. It coincided with the end of my six-years on their Board of Directors, so the ceremony gave me the chance to have a kind of small-g “graduation” for myself. For me, privately, this was a meaningful culminating event, as the capital campaign for the new building was the major and driving project in the final year of my board tenure.
The history of the building of the Grange and of the farm itself is made up of intertwined stories that stretch back and forth across nearly a century, involving the original Zenger family and all the people who have created the organization that exists today; their combined dreams for the future of this land that in ways takes on the aspect of a sacred space. I wove a few of these stories together, then offered everyone present the opportunity to express and leave behind their blessings and best wishes for the farm by making weathergrams that were strung between the deck pillars like their own personalized version of prayer flags. I closed with a blessing by Austrailian writer Mikail Leunig. Afterward, those assembled made and hung their weathergrams, visited with old and new friends and had more food and drink (in this case the feasting started before the ceremony, not left till last – it was also a party to celebrate the organization’s volunteers, after all).
Did the ceremony work its appropriate magic? I’d like to think so, and some of the feedback confirmed that. One person, who was familiar with the stories I shared, felt like those stories – and by extension the Zenger family – were duly honored by their telling. Others felt like the building was finally and officially “real.” That’s how I felt, too. Like the Grange settled itself a little deeper into its place. Earlier in the day there had been the official ribbon cutting with city officials and dignitaries, and the day ended with a blessing and a celebration. Combined together I think the building, the project, the people who made it happen, were all uniquely honored.
It is a subtle thing, sometimes. But I think it truly is a sort of magic.
We give thanks for places of simplicity and peace
Let us find such a place within ourselves.
We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty.
Let us find such a place within ourselves.
We give thanks for places of nature’s truth and freedom,
Of joy, inspiration and renewal,
Places where all people may find acceptance and belonging.
Let us search for these places:
In the world, in ourselves and in others.
Let us restore them.
Let us strengthen and protect them
And let us create them.