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Ceremonies for everyday life

Establishing connections with self, family, and the earth.
By Louise Nayer And Virginia Lang
Spring 2008 2.15.08

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young woman on grass (Elizabeth Shoemaker/iStockphoto)

(Elizabeth Shoemaker/ iStockphoto)

The sun rises, an enormous ball of fire thousands of miles wide, yet we hardly notice. Alarm clocks buzz unmercifully in our dark rooms and, as if on automatic pilot, we do our morning duties, alone or with family, only subliminally aware of the magic that has just occurred. The sun has risen once again and the darkness has vanished, but we have not been a part of it. How can we see the magic in each day and connect with the natural world, our fellow humans, ourselves?

When many people are struggling simply to survive, we are constantly bombarded with hollow materialism; stores stay open seven days a week, beckoning us, and demands of work and family far exceed our ability to respond. In our hearts, we know that something is missing, that we are not fully present in our own lives, that the carousel of busyness and consumerism is spinning faster and faster, placing in jeopardy the very earth on which we live. We have traded lighted candles and soft shadows for the neon glare of computer screens and the bleeps and blips of our technological toys.

We seek a certain numbness to quiet the fears of a post-9/11 world. We live in a time of terrorism, natural disasters, and the fear of global warming. We are understandably overwhelmed, but this is precisely why we need to be especially vigilant about deepening bonds with family and friends and encouraging hope in all our children.

How, then, can we reclaim the very part of us that makes us human? How can we establish a loving pace amid the rush and chaos?

We met twenty years ago at the Blue Danube Café in San Francisco. Our meeting was coincidental. We found out we knew people in common from the East Coast and realized, as we got together more and more often, how much we had in common and how much we both wanted to build a community embracing family and friends, young and old—especially children—in our circle of love.

We are not looking to replace ancient truths or the community and faith that can be found in a place of worship, but we have found useful and heartfelt ways to express ritual and ceremony in lives that embrace blended families and differing backgrounds and lifestyles. We believe that we all have family, however we choose to define it.

We believe our everyday lives deserve celebration. As our world grows more complex, it takes more thought to do less. Through simple ritual and ceremony, we slow down and open our eyes to the beauty and meaning in our lives, awakening to the natural world and the richness of our relationships with others. When we take time to see the sun rise and set, to really see the exploding colors of the universe, we awaken ourselves from cynicism and despair and open our hearts to the mysteries of nature, our bodies, our lives.


Expression night at home

We are all attached
like tiny red and white carnations
whose stems touch
at the bottom of glass.
       —Louise Nayer

Growing up in Greenwich Village and later becoming a poet, I have always had a house full of artists and writers. I moved to San Francisco to be part of the poetry community, immersing myself in workshops and readings. Over the past fifteen years, working full-time as an English professor and raising children, I have found myself going to readings less and losing some of that inspired, magical community that gave me so much.

In an attempt to bring more creativity into our lives, my family has started a monthly gathering at our home on Bosworth Street where both seasoned artists and novices can share their work. Everyone is an artist, so no one is turned away! Our art has included sculptures made from lemons and oranges, piano recitals, poetry and prose readings, and a computer calendar art show.

As people become increasingly fatigued from the pressures of work, this regular gathering adds magic to the month. I have been surprised and pleased at how many people ask, “When is the next Bosworth Café Night?” and how excited they get about practicing a piece on the piano or learning a new song to sing.

—L.N.

What you need

  • Invitations with dates for the next six months

  • Food and drink brought by everyone

What you do

Send out flyers marked with dates for the next six months. You can make a Café Night logo or an unusual flyer using your street name.

When people arrive, serve the food and drink. Afterward, sit in a circle in the living room. Ask one guest (a different person each time) to bring a poem, a passage from a book, or a song to begin the evening. It can be something written for the occasion or a favorite song or poem.

Then, begin the sharing time. Keep the performances to ten minutes per person so that people will want to return to the next gathering. Encourage one another, whether the person is a first-time poet or a widely published author. This is a time to remember that the creative spirit lives in all of us. End the gathering by holding hands and passing a squeeze, each person focusing on the beauty of what has been presented that night.


Rite of spring

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready to break my heart . . .
       —Mary Oliver

Spring explodes in Pennsylvania. It comes with an urgency and a will that is unstoppable. Ready or not, it spews forth armloads of brilliant forsythia, then scarlet azaleas, lavender rhododendrons, milky-white dogwood, and deep-grape Siberian irises.

In springtime, life pours from the earth without our having to do anything. It is a wonderful time to remember that we are not in control of nature, yet we are part of it. We deserve to be here just as much as the trees and flowers, not dominating the natural world but in a state of conscious participation with it.

—V.L.

What you need

  • A place of privacy outdoors

  • One of your favorite poems about nature

What you do

Find a comfortable spot to lie face down on the ground. Let your body fully relax as it blends with the earth, and simply lie quietly, feeling the dynamic, life-giving power below you. A practice of the Q’ero Indians of Peru includes letting your navel come into direct contact with the ground to meld with the earth, considered the navel of creation. This simple, childlike posture can offer a profound experience of connection and peace. Stay as long as you like and breathe deeply.

Just before bed, read one of your favorite poems about our connection to nature. The words will help you sleep well and savor the magnificent gift that is spring.


Excerpted with permission from How to Bury a Goldfish: And Other Ceremonies and Celebrations for Everyday Life. © 2007 Virginia Lang and Louise Nayer, published by Skinner House Books.

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