Family Ritual: Celebrating Cataclysm and Gratitude
A number of my family members are experiencing cataclysmic loss: an unexpected loss of a beloved job, a sudden closing of a school, a cousin’s boyfriend committed suicide, and the death of dear ones, to name a few. We felt a need to create a ritual during our Thanksgiving gathering that would provide space to ritually give voice to tragedy and to contextualize it inside of Deeptime.
After our Thanksgiving meal, all 26 of us gathered around a large coffee table. We ranged in age from my mother who’s 91 (pictured to the left in the photo) to the youngest who’s 8.
A round tray on the table had one lit candle in the middle, representing the universe, with a small box of unlit tea candles on the side. Folded pieces of paper were placed around the tray, each with a Deeptime cataclysmic event such as elements being fused in massive supernovae, the oxygen poison crisis of 2 billion years ago bringing forth the nucleated cell, and the extinction of dinosaurs opening the way for mammals (including humans) to evolve.
I explained cataclysm as a power of the universe, a power that breaks things down and can pave the way to the new. (See Brian Swimme’s paper on the Powers of the Universe.) Inside of cataclysm we can can seek out and align with threads of creativity that will bring us forward.
I invited people to do one of three things and then light one of the tea candles an place it on the tray:
1. Read one of the pieces of paper with a cataclysmic event.
2. Name a person who has passed on and be present to cataclysm in that person’s life, explaining it if they felt drawn to do so.
3. Express whatever thought they’d like to express.
We moved very quickly to a deep place as people named family members who’ve passed on, sometimes simply mentioning the name, other times telling a story about that person and the precious gift they were to others, even as they faced hardship and breakdown.
We alternated between crying and laughing. The movement between Deeptime and personal cataclysm felt utterly natural. The folded pieces of paper with Deeptime events provided a way for some to express themselves without being too personal.
Everyone felt deeply grateful to be part of the experience and bonded even more as a family including a number of significant others meeting the family the first time. They were enthralled with the ritual as was everyone, even the youngest among us.
Once the sharing finished, we noticed that the universe candle in the center had burned down and was a “puddle” of melted wax. My cousin Caitlin observed: “We’re all the universe now.”
After sharing, we sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, swaying together to the music.
It’s remarkable how a simple ritual can bring forth such emotion, acceptance and bonding in a group, and bring deep meaning to holiday gatherings. Take and adapt! I highly recommend it . . . enjoy!