“Rituals are the formula by which harmony is restored.” Terry Tempest Williams –
As a sea of autumn clouds began to slowly gather over the Pyrenees and roll down to the valley below, I took my ritual visit to a new village, a weekend drive to St. Seve. The village crowns a hill overlooking the scenic Adour RIver. Founded in 988, St. Sever is one of the major villages on the Saint Jacques de Compostele (Santiago de Compostela) pilgrimage trail. Its former Benedictine abbey, founded by the Duke of Gascony, Guillaume Sanche, is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When I arrived in the main square there, one wedding was finishing and another about to begin, with guests simultaneously leaving from, and arriving at the church. Ubiquitous, protective masks were either being taken off, or held, until the new wedding party entered the church. Some friends and I took seats at a café opposite so we could watch the colorful, impressive formal ceremonies. Outside of Paris I have not seen such fabulous outfits worn by the women. And the hats! Queen Elizabeth would be envious, if she were so daring.
As the sky began to darken and rain was imminent, I reflected on our day to day lives which look completely different now than before Covid-19. Many of us are struggling to find our footing in a the current world situation, not only with the virus, but with climate change and political instability. It’s like that feeling you get when you come back from a long vacation, except now, instead of getting back to our regular routines, we are being forced to dangle somewhere over an abyss. It used to take me a month after returning from France to the States to feel like myself again, but now I sometimes feel stranded in an enormously complex world without a safety net.
Watching the ritual of these weddings I was reminded that In increasingly disturbing times, we no longer need rituals for our physical survival, but for our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Unlike mindless habits, rituals are mindful, carried out for a specific purpose.They mark important events in our lives, big or small, in sorrow or joy. Who hasn’t felt sadness at a funeral or great pleasure at a birthday party or a wedding, as I have?
Rituals can transform the ordinary into the sacred. They allow us to find the magic in our own lives. to pause, take a breath, and reconnect with who we are. They don’t need to be elaborate to be effective. What matters is that they are meaningful to each of us. Gathering together for rituals reflects the diversity of the human experience. There is a sense that our lives have been given deeper meaning, which is why sharing strengthens ourselves and our communities. But what happens when we can’t gather?
We can create personal rituals according to our own needs. Some people turn to science for explanations of the inexplicable, and for solutions to problems. Others believe that one must join an inherited, traditionally organized religious group: a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. And others will join a coven or a cult. But I believe we don’t need to follow a well-worn set of ideas in order to create rituals, because we each have within us our own unique life experiences. We have everything we need to mold an eloquent celebration of our own meaningful moments.
From intimate acts of gratitude to communal acts of majesty, rituals are a basic part of what makes us human, and have as much relevance today as they did to our ancestors. Our inherent need for rituals in our increasingly digital culture has left us feeling alone, lost and confused. We take the magic of life away when we look at our smartphones to determine if it’s going to rain, track our fertility, or change our lifestyles via an app, We need rituals to ground us in times of change, to remember, to honor, to feel, and to connect while moving through life with kindness and grace. By listening to our inner voices and trusting our intuition we can change our perceptions, and in doing so, our reality.