I'd come for lunch with Blanche, who lived on Bliss Street and went home with much more. In her 80s, with a sweet tooth, she believed she might die before the meal was over. Why not have dessert first? She was celebrating being alive, the sweetness that can be found in the now.
A compelling force for rituals, Author Joseph Campbell, ( The Power of Myth) described the power of now when he wrote we are seeking to "feel the rapture of being alive. Rituals and ceremonies help us find the clues to this within ourselves." Through rituals, we celebrate our passage out of the darkness. We heal our wounds from battles with our personal demons. Metabolizing what we learned we're ready to share the stories of our warrior wisdom.
Light often plays a significant role in rituals, in the form of candles, a fire, at dawn or dusk. Rituals can be dramatic, or appear in the form of small Zen like moments. In Brazil, an old man told me of a daily evening ritual before electricity. At dusk, as lamps were lit, each family member, each friend would turn to the other and say 'Good evening.' How many times do we take a moment when we turn on the lights to honor the transition from day to night? In doing so, we embrace each other, the safety of home, and the unity of our circle.
While staying in a 12th century villa in Chianti, I made evening rounds to close the wooden shutters over each window. As I said good night to the stars and the small bats that swooped past the panes, I became aware of slowing down; a prelude to sleep and dreams.
On the morning round, I was awarded new vistas - gardens, olive trees and medieval villages on distant hilltops - all touched by light. It was a very large villa with many shutters and windows which extended my pleasure. By the time I reached the kitchen I was dancing! Colors seemed richer, deeper; smells and tastes had textures and layers as the new day became a gift waiting to be unwrapped.
Each culture has developed different rituals celebrating similar passages in life; the seasons, birth, coming of age, love, marriage, healing and dying. Particularly fascinating to me are the rituals for Truth and Reconciliation that emerged in South Africa with Nelson Mandela's intent for a peaceful transition through forgiveness and healing. Traveling committees were chosen to be objective observers. Former local apartheid members stood in the front of a large community room to listen as each villager told his or her story about the horrors, loss and grief they'd suffered under apartheid. Then, the accused acknowledged their participation in those acts and asked for forgiveness.
These ceremonies had much older roots in tribal traditions across the African continent. They inspired more ceremonies further north with the child warriors. Most in their teens and 20s, these anguished souls sat in the center of a circle. They spoke of being brainwashed and tortured to commit atrocities against their own families and friends. The tribe listened and answered with stories of grief and pain at losing their children. Sometimes, the process took days. When everyone agreed all that needed to be said had been said the circle opened up to song and dance. Some tribes gave the prodigal an egg to crush under foot during the dance; symbolizing the birth of new beginnings. Mandela called in the light and when he did, the whole world felt lighter.
Personally, I've never understood why schools send children who are acting out home where they are often alone and without guidance. Where their anger and confusion festers. What if we were to send volunteer teams trained in compassionate communication to create their own circles? What if our children would learn to listen deeply, without judging. Learn of forgiveness, conflict resolution and the healing and unity. They'd be calling in the light.
As a storyteller, a writer, an activist, a spiritual woman, I'm often reminded of the title of Zora Neale Hurston's wonderful book 'Their Eyes Were Watching God." It doesn't matter whether a circle is Quaker, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist or Pagan. Whether its members call to Jaweh, the Great Spirit or profess to not believing in god, I believe we're all connected in our humanity. That we all have the potential for goodness.
December 21st is the Winter Solstice, the darkest, shortest day of the year. It's also a day I experience a quickening at the returning of light the next day. This year I see the Solstice as a powerful metaphor for the darkness, the economic meltdown, the conflicts that fill the headlines and the light that's spreading worldwide. The light I've heard in stories of children gathering pennies to build wells or send food to Darfur. I've seen it in the beauty of African women who've planted tens of millions of trees. I've rejoiced when I heard about the organizations that micro-finance businesses for women in South America, the Far and Middle East; with www.girleffect.org that raises money to send young girls to school.
I'm not Pollyanna. There will always be turmoil and stress; sometimes more than others. However positive change is occurring. And so, on the 21st of December when the light changes, I'm going to celebrate by sending out my own light and my prayers.
Where I am, at midnight (EST in my case) the first candle will be lit. Perhaps, there will be a circle of candles held by family and friends. It may just be me and the dogs, thinking of the rest of you as we empower each other in our work for positive change. My circle will begin with the eldest and finish with the youngest, lighting candles one by one. As each individual lights the next person's candle, we will say "Please share this light, in mind, body and spirit." And when everyone is finally holding a lit candle, "We are the light."
I hope you'll join me!