Old Thoughts for a New Year

The holiday season is behind us. During this time of quiet recovery, with deep winter and the keeping of new year’s resolutions ahead, I have found myself thinking about ceremony.

Americans are shy about ceremony. Instead we prefer less controversial activities, ones that do not expose our emotional underbellies. We go to parties, church, and exercise class. We engage in things that make us feel good, yes, but we rarely speak of the true reason we feel anything at all. Further, more and more Americans say they are spiritual but not religious. I get it. We reject the dogma of a limited God as described by some authoritative human. Jihads and Catholic sex scandals have not helped. But in our rejection of religion, we have denied ourselves participation in ceremony. We do not carve out time in our busy day-to-day to join others in honor of the important connection between spirit and place, between body and spirit, and between ourselves and nature.

It’s obvious we are searching; it’s obvious we are sad. To remedy this, some sign up for martial arts or, most popular of all, Yoga, drawn in after a friend touts the benefits of such controlled and invigorating “exercise.”

I understand the pain that comes from a life devoid of ceremony; I have been keenly aware of it for the better part of my adult life. But for me, something like Americanized Yoga will never satisfy. In our typical European American style, we have stripped away the ceremonial meaning of these ancient practices. Plus, the guidance I seek cannot be borrowed from far off lands or from cultures and people to which I have no known ancestral, physical, or emotional ties. I envy the Native American who has been taught an origin story that includes the earth under his or her feet. It matters not if the facts add up to tangible truth. The point is in the teachings about who their long ago elders were, what they knew, what they believed, and what they wanted their children to know. For most of us, beyond a generation or three, that part has been amputated.

The Firebird Festival in Phoenixville, PA is essentially a ceremony to honor the mythical Phoenix to ensure continued rejuvenation and prosperity for the town. Drummers and fire eaters entertain the crowd that, for the most part, just come to watch the big structure burn.

In order to satisfy our human need to connect, we who do not participate in religious formalities must create our own ceremony. If that means stepping outside every morning to utter a “thank you” as you put your face towards the sun, whether it is shining or not, then so be it. Better it include movement and song in your own language. But something. Anything. Make it a ritual to acknowledge that the individual physical heart needs to be connected to the cumulative energy of the environment in which it resides and then regularly participate: that is my 2020 resolution.

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