Friday, April 29, 2011

The Road to Ritual - Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from the book I'm currently working on. I thought I'd whet your appetite!

The involvement of children in ritual, even at very young ages, is vital. In growing up with a religion that surrounds and supports them, children learn that they can depend on yearly cycles as well as the adults that celebrate them. If you take the time to make each celebration and ritual into one that takes away your child's breath and invokes the “awe” in “awesome,” you will also deepen your own enjoyment and understanding of those celebrations. Your children allow you to see ritual and ceremony through their young, innocent eyes and give you a different point of view.

Incorporating ritual into your daily life might seem like a chore at first, especially if you're attempting to herd toddlers or young teens into participating. Be persistent, though, and soon you will find that the children are reminding you on the days you have forgotten. Teach them, and they will lead the family on days when you feel you can't.

Daily prayers are a great way to start. In ancient Greece and Rome, daily prayers were said morning and night, at the family shrine. History tells us that the male head of family would usually lead in prayers to the family's gods, asking their blessings, and then offerings would be made to the gods. Today, the same ritual can be held, with the family gathered around a shrine or altar. It needn't be dad who leads the prayers, and a good way of getting little ones involved is to ask them to lead (with help, if they're very little) once a week.

Prayers can be simple, or complex. They can vary from day to day, as well, depending on what you have to be thankful for, and what specific blessings you might ask for. Children should be encouraged and helped to celebrate in ways that are meaningful for them, through poetry, self made stories, or simple songs as well as helping mom or dad in reading more formal hymns or poetry.

Simple. Poignant. Heartfelt. These are the cornerstones of child-centered ritual. Picture your son or daughter standing before you, facing your family shrine, and piping out, “Oh Mr. Sun, sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me!” When the words come unscripted from young lips, they are extremely meaningful. They also give a strong sense of empowerment to children who might find themselves overwhelmed by the more adult rituals seen in Circle or grove or church.

As you plan out the rituals that your family will celebrate, the milestones that are worthy of turning into ceremonies that will remain in memory for years to come, there are many things to keep in mind. Age, location, time, length, weather, and even time of the month and year must be seriously considered.

The age of your children and yourself must be taken into account. When creating ceremonies that involve very young children, it's important to avoid anything that might be considered frightening, such as loud drums or bells, or heavy incenses. Infants are easier to accommodate than toddlers, and if your children are between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, you'll have to make sure you have a child wrangler as well as a leader for the ritual (don't try to do both!). If you're younger, you may want to add in dance and chant, which will be of interest to most children. If you're older or dancing isn't your thing, you might try meditations that are simple and short, and focused on an easy to concentrate on theme. Don't forget about important things like bathroom breaks, what to do if there's a medical emergency (children get into the darndest things!), or even when the food is going to be served. Infants will demand your rituals be short and sweet, or will sleep during the entire thing and give you hours of time together. Toddlers have about a half hour of attention span, after which time they will become young and adorable holy terrors unless there are other activities for them to do. Teens may not want to come at all, and if forced will probably roll their eyes a lot. All these things are age related and need to be given serious consideration during your planning stages.

Spend some time contemplating the location of your rituals. Will you do them in the living room? Is your backyard appropriate? If you're outdoors, what will you do if it rains like the dickens? Is there a park nearby? Do you have access to your church or temple or other holy space? The most important factor in terms of location is comfort level. Family serenity dictates that there be good seating available, and that the temperature be neither too hot nor too cold. If you're outdoors, you have to be prepared to deal with rain, snow, sleet, mosquitoes and blackflies, and passers-by. Doing ritual anywhere other than in your home exposes you to others, and if what you're doing doesn't look very mainstream, you might get strange glares at best, or questioned at school at worst. Again, take all of this into consideration when preparing your family rituals.

The best family rituals are ones that are organic in nature. This means they incorporate all the people involved in a way that interests them most, and they aren't overly scripted or formal. There are plenty of times to enjoy formal rituals, but family time probably isn't one of them. Letting the children help create the ritual will guarantee their involvement, because they will want to see their part played out. Pre-school aged children suffer from a lack of control in their lives, and often their misbehavior stems from that feeling of helplessness in a world of giant bosses who force them to do things whether they want to or not. Counter this by drawing them into the creation process.

The decision about what ritual to do should be made by an adult, but can be guided by a child's choices and suggestions. For example, if your child approaches you and asks to have a funeral service for a beloved pet who has died, that gives you something to work from. Draw the child in by asking what sort of things they'd like to do to say goodbye to their pet. If there's a favorite song or story, perhaps the child can perform it or read it. Pictures can be drawn, or even a scrapbook page created to commemorate the pet. Let the child lead you, but you make the decisions. Your child will remember that sort of ritual their whole life, and remember that you helped make it just right.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Updates to my Website

So much is going on in my life! My thesis manual is due in less than a month, 100 pages of intense work on my part. My seminary retreat is fast approaching, promising times of joy, of sadness, of growth. Right after retreat comes ordination, which still seems unreal! My confirmation into the UCC is about the same time. We're moving to a new house in the next six weeks or so, a home that provides me with office space and a place to see clients. On top of it all, I'm still healing after my fall; the broken ankle is doing very well, but it's still broken, of course. My life is bounded by crutches and a walking cast, ice packs and places to sit with my foot up.

Still, despite frustration over being house-bound with the ankle, I can see the blessings involved, too. I have spent much time working on my manual. It's now done, and ready to be printed, then bound, then sent in. The last of my homework and preparation for retreat is done, printed, and packed away in a safe place. My computer is backed up to the cloud, and I'm ready for anything!

During the down time, I have also done several updates to my website. Feel free to have a look around. I think the single most important thing I have added, though, is the text of my personal Code of Ethics. It's been a work in progress since September, and I feel very good about it. There are other changes, too - have a peek!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April Updates

As my ordination approaches and my confirmation as well, I find that I am both slowing down and speeding up. I was unfortunate in that three weeks ago I fell and broke my ankle while visiting a friend's newly purchased land. It has forced me to stay in bed with my leg elevated for most of that time. My homework and thesis have benefited from this, and in many ways my spirit has needed the break from all the busy work that's been spinning around me for months. Being able to sit and just think has been wonderful, and occasionally frustrating. I have learned rather intimately that positive thoughts don't simply grow in your mind, but must be chased after, hunted down, and then cultivated. Perhaps this is Divinity's way of teaching me to slow down!

On a spiritual level, things have been going relatively well. Our pending move (happening sometime in the next six weeks or so, with luck) has caused me to put away many of my spiritual items and pack up most of my altars, but I have kept one out that has an amalgam of my favorite symbols and signs on it. I couldn't stand the thought of having none of my religious and spiritual items available to me!

There are so many lessons to be learned from being bed-ridden. I've learned I'm a terrible patient, that I have no patience at all, and that I get grumpy and suffer from cabin fever very quickly. These are all things that I now have knowledge of, and can combat in myself. There are always new things to learn and grow with!