According to a Gallup pole, there continues to be a gradual increase in the number of Americans who say they have no formal religious identity. I argue that this does NOT signal an increase in debauchery or corruption among us. On the contrary, a greater number of people have recognized the perils of organized religion, including its false judgments, exclusionary principles, power struggles, and wars.
Still, the religious are afforded something the non-religious don’t get: engagement in regular, meaningful ceremony.
Of course, we all get to go to weddings, baptisms, or funerals. On holidays we have pageantry with flag waving, fireworks, costumes, or dance. To picnics we bring offerings of food for the host and hostess. At concerts we chant and sing even though we paid others to sing for us. We move about from one event to another, happy to have attended, unaware of how close we’ve ventured near ceremony. As a result, we miss the deeper opportunity to generate with the same degree of lasting positive energy felt among the faithful who gather for worship. And beyond silent prayer, we are not taught the life-force-communication techniques used by those who participate in a religious culture.
It’s important to understand that a non-religious person can be tremendously spiritual. Spirituality is what compels one to wonder about the mystery of life. It is the spirit that guides one toward goodness. It is the spirit that rejects evil. It is the spirit that sees the unity in all things. What an independent thinker such as me lacks is not a longing for connectedness but the ability to effectively express and enrich that connection.
In fact, many non-religious people I know would make good moral leaders. They are people who, if deemed powerful, could improve our world. Sadly, they are more likely to suffer in the silence of their own deep thoughts.
Hiding from the stigma that comes from a rejection of religion, living among evangelists and martyrs and missionaries, the spiritual keep their most important thoughts to themselves. So ingrained is this conscious divide, this separation from dogmatics, we have disassociated ourselves from ourselves. Any action that offers the best chance to reconnect the two is left solely to private investigation. There could be depth to the likemindedness of others around us, but how would we know? There could be wisdom nearby, but how could we share, especially when doing so risks a label that reads “crackpot” or “possessed?” The spiritual orphan must either push his or her feelings aside or go through self development alone, because non-religious culture offers only scattered instruction on how to refuel a person’s inner light.
Some of us search for wisdom on the Internet pages of new age ideals. We try to find a church near where we live, going on referrals from a friend or family member. We sign up for yoga classes and meditate. We, in essence, are in a perpetual search for ceremony.
For the desparate, the allure of connectiveness thrusts them into religions that may not represent their true selves. They mimic instead of authenticate. With a hunger for offerings of gratitude or participation in some form of consult with the ethereal life force, they are left vulnerable to corruption and manipulation.
Meanwhile, the majority simply dedicate themselves to being good, hoping that that will be enough.
The Effect of Ceremony
When I was a child, my family prayed before dinner every evening. Even if the weather was perfect for playing outside, we went to Catholic mass every Sunday. No matter how redundant the prayer or boring the service, these rituals always changed my perspective. They forced me to think of others. Starving for dinner, I suddenly became aware of the significance of the nutrition my body was about to receive and the sacrifice it took to make that happen. Fidgety during mass, I left duty bound to be a good child. I remember specifically one Christmas morning, I stopped before ripping into the presents to hug and say “thank you” to my mom and dad. I did this because, on the previous evening, the priest suggested it in his homily.
Thus, the moments after ceremony are preciously worth the time. How happy is the audience after the officiant presents man and wife? How appreciative of a life is the congregation after witnessing a coffin being lowered into the ground? How well behaved is the child after kneeling in promise to share?
There are simple elements in all ceremony–ancient and new–that exist because they attribute to that kind of outcome. They include the spoken word, an offering, and a physical action. They are the difference between a silent wish and a heard prayer. I’ve got tons of silent wishes and remarkably few heard prayers.
A lack of ceremony in my life was pointed out to me by Dr. James Swan, author of “Nature as Healer and Teacher.” In his book, Dr. Swan referred to many ceremonies practiced by a variety of Earth-based cultures around the globe, primarily the Native American Indians’.
The Native Americans have inherited ceremony as a way of life from their ancestors. In doing so, they learned how to apply the assets handed down as well, and they know the importance of passing this knowledge to the next generation. The Indians had ceremonies for everything: birth, death, hunting, sunshine, and rain.
My heart grew heavy as I tried to recount the amount of ceremony that still exists in my life, having left the church decades ago. I began to feel a sense of hopelessness, because the examples he described could never have meaning to me. They were not my ancestral rituals. They were “owned” by those who needed it to rain or for the buffalo to run or for the antelope to guide them. The root of ceremony has nothing to do with dressing in a shawl of feathers and dancing like a bird. The root of ceremony is the reason why you would want to communicate with the birds in the first place. You cannot steal a man’s ceremony any more than you can take his desires.
With no religion and tattered ancestral ties, what do I do now? It seems I must create my own ceremony.
The Status of Today’s Walk Outside Blog
As you may know, I have a second blog called Today’s Walk (www.TodaysWalkOutside.com). It’s one part scientific, one-part informational, and one part motivational. Moreover, it’s a personal experiment shared with the world so others know they are not alone in their desire to be informed, motivated, and connected to the natural world.
The posts have been on hold since May 2015. I stopped writing because something was missing. I wasn’t reaching my intended goals. The project had become yet another loop of activity that was draining my resolve instead of filling it. I needed to fix something, yet I didn’t know exactly what was wrong.
I think I now know. In promising to walk every day, I was essentially creating a ceremony without realizing it. In the next few weeks I’ll be diving deeper into this realization with the hopes that I’ll emerge with a better product, one that will be more satisfying to my readers and to myself.
If you can associate with the realizations I’ve divulged in this post, I invite you to stay tuned with an open mind. I promise to share with you the subtleties of the changes I plan to make at Today’s Walk so that you might discover ways to add more meaning to one or more of your regular activities.
Together may we show that there is a gradual increase in the number of people who, with or without a particular religious identify, are walking on a path toward a greater connection to the Earth, to each other, and to ourselves.