Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Month: August 2014

“Celebate? You’re a Celebate?”

That is the question I often get when people hear I am a Celebrant! My husband would surely be surprised to learn of my professional title, no?

But I quite understand the confusion. Celebrancy is a fairly new phenomenon in the U.S.; it has only been an active profession here since for 15 years or so. So maybe you haven’t heard of us.

Australia has had an active celebrancy movement for over forty years now, and England even longer than that. In those countries, celebrants compose and officiate many, and maybe most, of the civil ceremonies and some of the typically church-sponsored ceremonies that take place.

We can thank Charlotte Eulette for seeing the need in our own land. She went overseas in early 2001, the story goes, to critically assess the use of celebrants for weddings and funerals, and returned to our shores to do it better. That’s American ingenuity for you. She saw the need here for a more inclusive, expressive use of ritual to help Americans begin to heal after the 9/11 attacks, and so devised a new approach to the typical role of “officiant.” Celebrants here, as in other countries, could work more closely with people to help them compose ceremonies that would best express their values and lives.

Now, there are thousands of celebrants here, educated professionals who are celebrants because they have seen a need, studied to prepare themselves to undertake this important work, and who try to make a living doing it. I promise you: no one becomes a celebrant to make lots of money, though. We become celebrants out of an acute awareness of the need for the profession. All of us need to pause in the swift stream of life from time to time. By stopping to mark a passage–a wedding, funeral, relocation, a new baby, a new job–we better prepare ourselves for the journey. But before we get to the reason celebrancy matters, let’s define our term.

Celebrancy: the art and profession of creating and performing personalized ceremonies uniquely designed to honor clients’ own needs for meaningful weddings, end-of-life memorials, baby welcomings, retirements, pet memorials, and more. As well as working with individuals and families, celebrants also compose ceremonies for civic functions, such as art installations, new building dedications, and community healing ceremonies (such as those that followed 9/11).

A celebrant employs her or his excellent writing skills, speaking ability, love of the arts, engagement with people and our lives, respect for our need for ritual, and organizational skills to handcraft ceremonies for clients from all belief systems. Celebrancy can draw from all human cultural traditions in order to provide individuals, families, and communities the relevant ceremonies they desire. Your values. Your ceremony. Your life.

So there you have it. Being a celebrant is important, sustaining work!

Celebrate My New Blog: Confluence Ceremonies!

What Remains

Over the last 5 weeks, our beautiful Methow Valley, located in North Central Washington State, has been through many serious trials. First came the extreme heat wave and high winds in early and mid-July, then the wildfires, then the flash floods, followed by the landslides. And now, the clean-up.

One person has died, suffering a heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the fires. Countless wild and farm animals were lost as well.  Families’ hard-earned life savings were decimated.  Dreams were dashed. We are all surrounded by endings.

First and foremost, fire destroyed more than 300 homes in our valley. Imagine your home, its rooms, its history, its presence. Then imagine it destroyed by fire, now surrounded by an unrecognizable moonscape of black tree trunks, layers of ash, and creeks and rivers running black. Many of these homes were farms, with barns and fields full of cattle, horses, goats, sheep. These were lost, too. It’s really too horrible to grasp.

Brave firefighters surely saved more homes than were lost, but the trauma of evacuating while your neighbors’ houses burned is etched on memory here. As you grab the few belongings you can think of (what would you take if you were given a short amount of time to leave your home?), you know time is ticking. You say goodbye as you drive—to where?—not knowing if you’ll ever see your property again, but grateful to be alive and hopefully with those you love.

Other losses suffered here are somewhat less tangible. They include the day-to-day life endings: business owners scrambling to make ends meet, down-towns temporarily quieted as they struggle to regroup. State highways, the arteries of our rural communities, shut down. Families making huge decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or selling. An entire summer lost to simply trying to recover.

And perhaps most serious of the losses caused by this summer’s trials are the assumptions we have held close: the belief in the permanence of the landscape, one’s way of life as enduring, Mother Nature as gentle, home as a safe place.

The lessons are thick in the air. We are all thinking about these. And they are not abstract concepts anymore. For one community, at least, these ideas are now front and center.

To such lessons I would add one more: change provides the opportunity for transformation. Destruction and devastation have long been seen as the road to renewal. And indeed, where the ash has lain for weeks in thick, choking layers, grass is now shooting up, boasting a bright vivid green against the ravaged landscape. Foresters tell us that come Spring, we will see young pines sprouting up everywhere.

And neighbors lean in toward each other, asking the question of the summer: How are you doing? Never before has that question been so common and yet so important.

As a celebrant, my interaction with life, death, and transformation keep these realities in front of me each day. These are the natural themes of our lives and they mark the arcs of our existences. We each suffer losses in life, and struggle to right ourselves, to learn how to move forward.

But how to move forward authentically? I know for certain we are right to mourn the losses we’ve suffered, to mark the endings of the lives we lived up until this horrible thing happened. And then, I know we can begin to turn with renewed energy toward the future.

With what remains—our compassion, our renewed values, and yes, our shared loss—we have the material we need to re-imagine our lives anew.

A community is a living thing, and like farmlands or Ponderosa pines or the white-tailed deer that share our valley, our community will regenerate, taking the opportunity misfortune has given to reassess and to transform our ways of life.

Aug182014_0176

Courtesy Reflected Light Photography

I look forward to the healing and growing to come!

Ceremony and Our Inner Healer

“I had lines inside me, a string of guiding lights . . . .I had been damaged, and a very important part of me had been destroyed—that was my reality, the facts of my life. But on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel. And as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.” (Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?)

       Photo by Thelma Achamire

Photo by Thelma Achamire

Are we ever truly lost? Humans may well have a natural predisposition toward emotional balance. Whether we think of it as “a string of guiding lights,” a hardwired equipoise, or the internal divine, our default setting is always engaged in one task: to return to a healthy state. We can see evidence of this natural state of self-care in our desire to sleep when we are stressed, in our good feelings after talking it out with a good friend, and in our dreaming life. But often, our conscious mind overrides this reflexive mode. It replays old tapes, increases anxiety (“do something!!”), and wears us down. We binge, we distract, we erupt, we self-destruct. We sabotage this innate ability to heal ourselves.

But always, there is “the other side of the facts.” If we remember to honor this amazing skill we all are inheritors of, we allow our hearts and minds to move toward emotional health. That inner healer innately knows who we are and who we can be, as Jeanette Winterson describes it in the excerpt above. What that means is that anytime we wish to, we can accept the call to restore our own well-being!

Ritual and ceremony offer one way to answer that call to health: they create a safe and rich environment outside of our daily lives, they honestly express our authentic emotional state, they help transform the moment into a concrete truth, setting us on a path toward authentic emotional growth. A well-focused memorial ceremony is a good example of this. Meaningful rituals within a service can move us onward in our suffering, in our relationship to the deceased, and in our own healing. We can share memories of all kinds with those in attendance, we can read a poem we’ve written for the deceased, we can listen to their favorite song or ask a family elder to recall the deceased’s birth. Through such rituals, we reconnect to our inner healer. We find, as we leave the ceremonial space, that we feel better, more integrated, less at sea. Through ritual and ceremony, we have rediscovered our natural ability to heal ourselves.

A ceremony’s power to heal derives not only from ritual, but from its very creation of community, cohering individuals witnessing the ceremony into an affiliated group, one of the healthiest biological structures there is. This community 1) reflects our own emotional state, 2) joins us in our expression of grief, joy, hope, 3) identifies more strongly with us because of the sharing that takes place in the ceremony, 4) brings its own creative energies and unique experience to bear on our own situation, and 5) begins to heal and transform along with us.

Ceremonies can also transform guests in very personal ways, as they act as witnesses to those more central to the ceremony. This may have happened to you. Watching the event unfold, you become a participant through your ability to identify with the mourners. In sharing this ceremony, you come to understand more deeply the value of love, care, truth, connection, compassion, and humor in your daily life. A focused ceremony actually invigorates a community of supporters, as all the natural energy of healing is restored to each member, who then focuses that healing energy on the central participants of the ceremony. Ceremony, then, reconnects us to our natural desire to affiliate with others through enhancing our connection to our inner healer.

I’ve seen deeply estranged families begin the process of authentic reconnection as a direct result of their participation in ceremony. This happens in weddings, funerals, divorce ceremonies, baby welcomings, and more. The energy created by ritual takes us out of the everyday thinking and responses, opening us up to possibility, healing, and our own power to transform. Ceremony reconnects us to that “string of guiding lights” that leads to our own inner healer, pointing to who we are and who we can become.

Our minds are powerfully focused on taking care of ourselves. We have only to attune our conscious self to our natural impulses. Ceremony and ritual help us unlearn our conscious responses to emotional stress and start to process our reality in a way that allows us to gather our energy and take the next step forward. Those lines within us—lifelines and anchor chains accessed through the benefits of ceremony–lead to our own inner healer. There he sits and waits, there she gathers her tools, ready to restore our own selves. Ready to restore the gift of being and becoming.