Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: celebrancy

Very Married

If I get married, I want to be very married.  ~~Audrey Hepburn

My Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay on their wedding day, May 27, 1945.

My Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay on their wedding day, May 27, 1945.

Wow. Today marks my Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay’s 70th Wedding Anniversary. Seventy years! Next month, my husband and I will celebrate our 32nd anniversary, not quite the same milestone and yet still something to honor. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to make a marriage last and how anyone achieves “very married” status.

My Celebrancy work brings me into contact with couples who are poised at the beginning of their marriages. Planning a wedding is formative, I realize, in helping couples define for themselves what values they wish to build into this new joint endeavor. Through creating a ceremony together, with its writing of vows and selections of readings, music, and rituals, a couple discovers more about each other and themselves.  Hopefully, this mutual dedication to a common cause will be just the first joint effort in a long, healthy marriage.

Of course, a long marriage isn’t necessarily a good marriage. Some enduring marriages unfortunately seem like old abandoned houses: rotted at the foundations, surrounded by long-dead trees and overgrown gardens, and only upright because a powerful wind hasn’t blown the shambles over, yet. Like a house of cards, one wonders how much longer the thing can stand.

Yes, we all know couples who have stayed married over the years out of “mutual disinterest.” “It’s easier to stay than to go,” they tell us, with a sad, slow shake of the head. These are the neglected marriages.

Just as heart-wrenching is another type of failed marriage, the sudden awakening. These people simply open their eyes one day and think: “I don’t love this person anymore. So why are we still married?” Over long years, they have slowly grown apart until, suddenly, nothing holds them together. Instead of forging bonds to each other, they have, usually through carelessness, been shedding them. For these couples, there is now no reason to stay and every reason to go.

So what is the recipe for a long AND good marriage? Each new marriage cuts its own path, finding its way across obstacles, changing direction when the need to do so arises. Perhaps what contributes most to a successful, loving marriage is that we choose to journey every day with this person, that we commit to this work of marriage-building while never losing sight of the love that brought us together in the first place. Marriages must change and grow as we ourselves do. But they must never lose the spark that first brought two people together.

I love the spark I see in my aunt and uncle’s wedding picture! They still share this spark today. But surely my aunt and uncle’s love for each other now is nothing like it was in 1945 when they married. How could it be? They have each lived a full life together, and such living changes a person. From their wedding day forward, life meant adjustment. They left their hometown to begin their married life in a new area. They worked hard. They lost a baby. They raised a family. They have both suffered together through major health crises, employment changes, and other challenges. Who would be surprised if their courage flagged at times, if they occasionally lost their shared vision, lost their passion for a life together. But I believe people who maintain the “spark” always find a path back to the road and grasp hands. Together they keep walking in the same direction, regardless of the difficulties.

And there has been sunshine, too, in my aunt’s and uncle’s marriage. Their long lives have thankfully brought them stability, success, and sweet family. They still live together in their own home with the help of their own children and grandchildren. Great-grandchildren, too, are constants of their days. Good neighbors check in and say hello. They practice their faith and are nourished by their spiritual community. Best of all, they enjoy each other’s company. They spend time together. They talk. They share the moments of their lives.

Their 70 years of marriage have changed Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay, but have also brought them closer and made their lives far richer than they might have been without one another’s love. After so many years, they have become very married.

Uncle Jay and Aunt Janet today: still very married!

Uncle Jay and Aunt Janet today: still very married!

 

Losing Sight of the Shore

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore. —Andre’ Gide

 

Recently, three generations of our family attended an opening at a local art gallery.

The exhibit’s title, “The Big Sleep,” is, as you may know, a euphemism for death.

“Conversations on Finality” is the specific focus of this visual conversation created by art, a sort of “death café” for the eye, a mixed-media discussion of the various terminals we face in life. The different works frequently addressed the theme of physical death, but others took us further into this major metaphor of our lives.

One sculpture I can’t forget is a cast bronze by Steve Love. Barely bigger than your laptop and standing approximately 12 inches, “Crossing” depicts a little rowboat, just big enough for a man, a woman, and boatman holding an oar that reaches to the water below. He stands forward in the boat, and looks ahead toward the far shore as he moves the little boat through the water. Behind him sits a naked man to one side of the boat, his arms violently gripping the rail, his body tense, seeming to ask frantically, “How did I get here? How do I get back?” In stark contrast to him, in the aft of the boat sits a naked woman, motionless—she is stilled, her hands in her lap. Her gaze is not into the water or even toward the now-invisible shore she has left forever; instead, she focuses inward. She seems to be thinking: “I am here. This is what is now.”

After gathering my many initial responses, I allowed the critical part of my brain to engage. I began to see more details, like the froth in the small boat’s wake, just little hints of water and wave amazingly cast into the dark metal sculpture. The artist’s careful technique aptly described a boat not hurrying, but moving deliberately, steadily. For, why hurry? Time has no seat on the trip from life to death. This poem beside the sculpture communicates the sculpture’s end-of-life theme:

[For a bronze sculpture titled “Crossing”]

Death is a journey,
A passage.

Across the river Styx to the gates of the underworld,
Over the Jordan of Death to the promised land,
Following in a boat the sun on his journeys in the Upper Waters.
Across the Great Stream!

Our ancestors came out of the sea.
At birth we emerge from the embryonic fluid of the womb,
And into the dark churning waters we depart.

 

~Steve Love

The artist stood nearby, as we are always appreciative of in a gallery opening. Steve Love is familiar to me, as his sculpture “Twisp” was the subject of the art installation ceremony I enacted last summer at the Twisp Ponds site. I knew him to be a man of few words, a refreshing combination of humorous and erudite, and in possession of more than a little insight into life’s big themes.

“Thank you for your woman”—these are the strange words that came out of my mouth—and I motioned toward the sculpture before us. He looked into my eyes for a short moment and then gracefully answered: “You’re very welcome.”

“I can’t figure out why she, of all three figures, affects me the most. She is the least detailed and the still-est.”

“She is stoic . . . and serene,” he answered. “She has accepted what is, and does not fight it.”

That was it. Especially in comparison to the poor fellow at the side of the boat who appeared to be contemplating a panicky jump overboard and a swim back—to where?—she was instead gathering herself for this journey. She was taking stock. She had opened herself to the real, to change, and was now preparing to be transformed. She was quietly becoming.

Yes, the sculpture was about death. But not only that. It was also about how we live.

The truth is, hard change is a part of life. We need to mark important but sometimes painful passages in order to be able to, like the woman in the boat, consent to let go of the shore. Like her, we need to stop and contemplate the leaving behind in order to grasp the importance of the journey itself. This release begins the necessary transformation from was to is. Release prepares us for what will be.

As I stood in the gallery with my husband, his aging mother, and our adult son contemplating this wise artwork, I saw its relevance to how we live. In its commemoration of the journey that transformation is, this work depicts our own choice: we can try as hard as we can to resist change, or we can accept it.

Celebrancy helps us to discover new lands, because it creates ceremonies that hold sacred a vital and creative space for pause, allowing for acceptance, assessment, and contemplation before we set off toward whatever awaits off shore.IMG_1872

Home Is Where Art and Nature Meet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow Celebrancy Supports Communities

Recently, I offered my celebrancy services to a local community art dedication. The ceremony was to mark the outdoor installation of a sculpture and commemorate the cooperative partnership that brought that art to life: the confluence of two organizations, one in the arts community and one in the fish restoration community, but both neighbors of our lovely Methow Valley in North Central Washington State.

The process that had taken us from a vision to a reality was complete, and a ceremony was in order. Everyone who had been involved in coordinating this project was in a jubilant mood! Both locals and curious vacationers gathered together. In all, about 30 people attended the dedication.

The June day was warm and bright. A cool breeze blew off the Twisp River, lightly rippling the ponds. The air was filled with the buzzing of bees and the rushing of water in the low falls between the ponds that provide nurturing habitat for endangered salmon.

As we stood in a clearing forming a circle around the new sculpture, we knew we were likewise surrounded by nesting birds, snakes, beaver, and young fawns; this is also their community. Come winter, the bears and coyotes and even cougars will call this habitat “home.” Painters, birdwatchers, elementary students, science professors, nature lovers, photographers, tourists, and everyday neighbors enjoy free access to and make use of this special space year round.

In describing to me their visions for the ceremony, both group’s directors had emphasized the importance of the positive impacts on the community of art and the local ponds that were built to help restore endangered fish runs. By placing art on paths around these ponds, the public is drawn both to the art and to the activity of care for endangered salmon. Within the environment of water, trees, river, and ponds enhanced by a rich flora and fauna across the site, the community, we hope, becomes invigorated by and reinvested in both art and nature.

In my opening remarks, I spoke about the power of art to create a “community of care” that we all, nature included, need in order to live healthy lives in healthy neighborhoods. The speakers, both groups’ directors and the artist, then filled us in on the process of bringing together this partnership and the process of creating a memorable work of art for the site.

The sculpture, titled Twisp, was created by Steve Love, a quiet man, uncomfortable speaking aloud and in front of people. He nevertheless shared his own vision of his work with us. And none of our country’s greatest orators ever uttered a more effective address. He told us of the method he uses to create art, often working in a “semi-conscious state” at first, so as to allow his pure creativity to control the work. Later, he returns to the work with a more critical eye to address structural, practical issues (how will a sculpture stand up? Can it withstand the elements?). Finally, he considers the subtext of the work, reaching deeply into it to better grasp its symbolic power and purpose.

In closing, I urged those present to see themselves as part of this community of care, an active group of neighbors whose investment in the ponds’ site and its art—and by extension the local community—makes them important partners of care and positive transformation.

Finally, my concluding blessing spoke of the timelessness of our gathering, the importance of bringing our children into this ethic of community care, and our need to be ever-mindful of our roles as neighbors of the world, part of an interconnected community of humanity and nature. Aware of art’s ability to inspire and nature’s ability to nurture us, we must reach out into our communities and actively support both.

ART DEDICATION: Twisp by Steve Love (sculpture)
June 28, 2014
Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation’s Twisp Ponds Site
Twisp, Washington

Sponsored by Methow Arts Alliance (methowarts.org) and Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation (methowsalmon.org)

“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.

But Australia has had an active celebrancy movement for over forty years, 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 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.

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. 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.

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

Celebrate My New Blog: Confluence Ceremonies!

Celebrate My New Blog: Confluence Ceremonies!