Ceremony As Remembering

Winter SunsetIt’s 3:30 in the afternoon and a couple of hours before dark. The sky has a stormy cast, only occasionally allowing Father Sun to break through. If the weather service is to be believed there will be no inclement weather until tomorrow, when there is the chance we will experience a brief thaw and various and sundry forms of precipitation.  I am reminded of T.S. Elliot’s notion of the midwinter spring, although we are well passed the halfway point of the season.

I just looked out the window. Sometimes eagles may be seen, but today over towards the west a smaller raptor, perhaps a hawk, is hunting. It soars on the occasional thermal, and dodges a single harassing songbird. I’ll take that as a good omen. The back lighting from Father Sun keeps them both in silhouette. Now the hawk swoops towards a tall tree and they are gone from view.

I imagine they have left traces in the air. Perhaps, if one were astute enough, those invisible trails could be followed and their stories read.  The naturalist might discern a tale of hunger, hunting, and the hunted. In this reading the songbird is a persistent distraction, annoying the hawk until it flies away. I like to believe the story is richer than that, the hawk’s flight path overlain by layers of possibility and meaning. This is a deep cultural difference; culture shapes our interpretations of events, gives meaning to shared experience. What story might you glean as you followed their exploits?

Father Sun has dropped into a clear space between layers of cloud, his light flooding the room with a warm glow, casting my shadow and those of plants and objects against the far wall. Suddenly we are shadow puppets, animated and perhaps meaningful, yet lacking substance.

Black Elk said this world, like the shadow world projected against the wall, is but a faint reflection of the real world, the world of spirit. He thought ceremony brings us closer to the real world, gives us some small entrance into something vast. Other mystics have said this. We get caught up in the physicality of everyday existence and miss the dance that animates it. When we do so, the world becomes too solid, very much like concrete, rather than porous, one-dimensional rather than unimaginably complex. When the world is too solid we forget we are, along with all creation, interconnected, and that our actions reverberate through untold dimensions of experience and meaning.

When reality becomes  one-dimensional we may imagine we are very important people, or conversely, that our lives are inconsequential. Traditionally this view of life as limited is seen as an illness, a loss of balance. Often the best medicine for a flattened world is ceremony.  When we prepare for ceremony we open ourselves to the possibility that our lives are intertwined with the Infinite. When we engage in healing through ceremony we put aside our small lives and step into the Immensity that is our birthright. In so doing we are reminded that we are the incarnation of the First Beings, that we are walking the paths they walked and experiencing events they held dear.

Father Sun has moved closer to the horizon. Clouds dim his brightness and the late afternoon shadows are gone from the world. Tomorrow he will return. We will know he is there, even if he is hidden behind thick clouds, for even when diffused, his glow illumines the world. Ceremony suggests the spirit world is like Father Sun, always present even when obscured by cloud or night. We are the ones who forget. Fortunately the Holy Ones have left us pathways to remembrance.

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