Tag Archives: Ritual

Quite literally, Ups and Downs

I entitled this piece for a reason. I’ve been thinking a lot about tempering lately. I think there used to be a time when I felt it was of value to maintain a Zen-like middle path where I didn’t want to get too excited and I didn’t want to get to upset. Thrills and depressed… that’s what Anthony de Mello used to say. But, I don’t want that any more. I am fully convinced that this is not the way to learn love, it is not the way to learn how to grieve. It is not the way to grow in our connection to Life and all of life. We have ups and we have downs and neither is better or worse that the other. Perhaps, I can explain.

I did a talk on Sunday about generosity and and brought the full Orphan Wisdom Forensic Audit Method to the teaching. I studied the etymology, I brought in a poet, and I kinda of winged it. Not saying I wasn’t prepared and not saying it didn’t land. But I experienced the full effect of being on the “receiving end.” Here is the down and up of generosity. It comes from the root “gene” which essentially means “stock, kin, and to have been beget.” When they used to say you were generous, they meant your “line” was good. Well, now, few of us know where we really come from and we live in a time of individualism and to a certain degree, miserliness. This is the opposite of generosity, which is to act in such a way as to take into account what “begot” you or what “made” you. Your land, your food, your ancestors, your people… the thing is to let this affect us. This ain’t no “middle path.” This is the down and dirty, learning to “inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully” (as David Whyte writes about), letting ourselves feel down into that and rise up out of it. “Everything comes from somewhere,” I have been teaching the boys.

Since getting back from Canada and Orphan Wisdom School, I have had a number of firsts, each an up and down of a certain kind. Part of my work in the world, beyond the spiritual director/chaplain/community builder, is to help create and do ritual at transition times. I did my first baby baptism, outdoors by the lake on a Sunday morning. The geese, paddling on the water at the edge of our steamy-breath hazed sight, took flight as the ceremony was complete. The most ideal and wonderful witnesses, reminders of the wild goose that won’t be caged. I blessed baby Sawyer, as one connected to the trees, with elements of earth, fire, wind and water… a calling her down into the land even as we lifted her up and honored her place in the family of things.

Not even a few days later, I was asked to do a funeral for a young mother, who had two young children, six and two. This would be the first funeral I had ever done, but it was one of those “can’t go on, must go on” kind of events. Difficult and heartbreaking, devastating even… but necessary and something that I knew I could do in honor to her. This was very much a down even, going down into the sorrow, but yet, as I offered to the community gathered there:

I first met Jana and Kevin, the day they got their biopsy results back… all the way back in March. I was also there, when they heard that nothing else could be done. These could very well have been among the very worst days. Yes, there were tears. Yes, there was shock. But these things do not equal a hard heart. A hard heart is when we stop paying attention. When we shut down. I never saw that in Jana. When I asked her three weeks ago if there is anything she was unresolved with, any questions that were left unanswered, her response was, “Why? Why me?” This is the question that keeps a heart from growing hard, at least if we can somehow consider that there is no good answer, no answer sufficient enough to take the pain away. When we jump too swiftly to fairness and unfairness, deserving or not deserving, even what God has to do with it… I think this stops our open heart. An open heart is a broken heart

An open heart is a broken heart. Or perhaps a broken heart is an open heart. However you want to say it, the truth of it remains. We must let ourselves be affected. Don’t shut it out. If you want to live as a receiver and as a giver, you must draw down and be affected.

One final up and down, and this is my life now, as a dad of a boy with Duchenne. Brendan fell last week. In his room. Just toppled. This something that happens with weak muscles and not good balance, nothing new. But he also doesn’t have much in his upper body to cushion his fall so when he hit his bed frame he broke his arm. I got the call and rushed to emergent care where we had x-rays and he got a sling. He was quite silent throughout the whole visit, no doubt taking in our repeated reminders to the doctor and nurses that he has Muscular distrophy and falls a lot. But when he got that sling, he smiled and did a little dance for the doctor… who proceed to say he had never seen anything like this and told all the nurses. Down and right back up again. Light in the midst of our darkness. I am schooled by a six year old.

I had to pick him up and carry him to school a few days later because he can’t walk that whole way. Plus we were late and his wagon had been left at school. A fifty pound boy with one arm and another that is not strong enough to hold on gets heavy quickly so I pushed it as far as I could, telling him that when we get closer he would have to walk. “But I’ll get too tired,” he said. How do I know when he can do or when he can’t do it? Is he playing me or telling me the truth? Well, he walked because otherwise I would be the one down. We went slowly and I watched at how his left foot hit the pavement at an odd angle. Tight calves, I thought. He isn’t planting his heel first. Another problem with DMD. I felt, too, the slowness of his gait as he lagged behind and I tried to hold his hand. It’s ok to slow down. I don’t need to pull him. Innocent parents unknowingly share that we might not get in the back door, but I know we have a special pass and help him get his coat off and carry his notebook for him. It aches to see the signs, to watch the slow progression and to still find these moments of joy, as in the conversation about the frost on the grass. He reminds me… don’t miss this, Dad. I’m going down, I need you to hold me up. Or Dad, I see you are going down. Let me hold you up.

And this comes to my memory just now as I write… just today, a patient with sepsis, confused and difficult to understand, after ten minutes of indiscernible conversation, says with eyes half closed, “Hold me up… I’m going down.” I can’t make this stuff up. I am receiving it all. It’s my kin and it begets me. Be generous to me, Life, and may I respond generously.


Not much organizing for the organizers

There is very rarely anyone to organize for the organizers. If you are one who facilitates community or feels called to it, you may already know this to be true. I’ve had a few conversations with some wonderful men over the last few days that have made this very clear in my mind.

You see, in an ideal community, led by elders and leaders who have earned their leadership and authority by virtue of their years and their life experience and giving, ceremony and ritual would flow naturally. For a man in my place, a soon to be first-time father, the community of men would naturally be planning an initiation into fatherhood… a blessing rite… or something of the sort. But in this time, if I (or anyone else) want to encourage the ideal, I am the one who has to do the organizing or subtle (or not so subtle) hint, hint, hinting. I’m sure there are others who can share this sentiment. No hard feelings… it just is what it is right now.

We have a long way to go… as a community and society. I am realizing that peer pressure, in a positive way, can be very beneficial and very transformational. In a village society, where we are having rites of passage, ritual, and are led by true elders, the community-push for men to participate fully is natural. But in our current context, men want to do their own thing and worry about their own direct families. We don’t want t o take off work, drive to a remote site, be asked to show up fully, fast, and then sit in the wilderness alone for 24+ hours. What man is going to step out of his comfort zone to do this? Not many. Because it is hard work. So there is a huge chasm between the place and time when peer pressure can be a positive thing and now when a man can just say, “What?!? Are you crazy? I’m staying home.”

Life is SIMPLE even in the changes

I’ve moved into a new place… a new place, a new place. Many, many things changing and a new, fresh perspective on self.

Not thinking so much, feeling more, listening more. Heart space holding, care for the community… less directing, less trying to make things happen for myself.

Link to photographer

Went through the Men’s Rites of Passage, through the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Grieved unresolved grief, felt death
Learned the importance of ritual and experience
Heard from my soul and felt what it is like to get out of my head
Felt drumbeat in my heart and gut… new practice with the drum
Called a man… an initiated man
Fasted… isolated in the wilderness
A new connection with my dreams… the subconscious

And life is simpler. I know what I need to do. The questions I need to ask… what kind of friend will I be? What kind of dad will I be? How to listen? How to lead from my depth? I focus on my personal practice now… less need to say, more just being. Less time emailing, facebooking, blogging, googling, surfing, distancing… more time face to face in each other’s company. I will make good scones and muffins and do my thing… you know where to find me.

Reflections on tradition and community

My friend Marc, had some questions regarding tradition and community in response to my reflections on our ceremony, and I think it’s worth a post.

I am curious to know what place (if any) you think tradition has in the concept of community. Communities are constantly changing — people come and go, they age, structures are built and torn down, etc. — but perhaps ceremonies (weddings, graduations, national anthems sung before ball games, etc.) play an important role in maintaining a steady hand amid all the flux. Certainly, there are plenty of ways to have a wedding, but at what point is a wedding no longer a wedding and becomes something else? Is it OK if it becomes something else entirely? How does that affect the community? Are certain communities more adaptable to change and, if so, is that adaptability something that can be intentionally developed or does it just happen?

I am currently working toward a Master’s in Public Administration, so I am so eager to hear your thoughts about tradition, change, and how communities can address the two. (Government is infamously slow to change, but I think the public’s longing for tradition can play a big role in that.)

There is a huge place for tradition, ceremony, and ritual in community. As Marc said, communities are constantly changing and yes, government has been slow in adapting… I would say, to an extent, religion has as well. Tradition helps us stay grounded in history which is absolutely essential if we are to adapt to change well. It’s a paradox really. Adapt yet ground in history. So, we as a community must know and celebrate (or even lament) our history, and yet we must continue to build new ways of doing ceremony and ritual.

Tradition often gets developed unintentionally, but ritual and ceremony MUST be developed intentionally. Continue reading Reflections on tradition and community