Category: "Celebration"

The Ritual of a Spirit

July 17th, 2015

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.

I'm still here.

January 17th, 2014

I haven't forgotten about you. Although I've been silent for months, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I have, however, met up with a challenge that is consuming all of my time: cleaning up a new, old home.

The whole thing started with a sign on a lawn.

Now, with the move complete, the walls are changing colors as the sawdust is swept away...

...while wearing dust masks, of course.

Meanwhile, in the midst of moving, the holidays came and went and the new year began. There's a sense of a fresh start in the air for everyone I meet, whether or not they've recently made a big change. It's the way of winter: dormancy for renewal. Even if we are not spreading our leaves and bursting with color, we are improving, inside and out.

How do you like our living room decor?

It may feel as if we are neglecting other things in the process, but there is something very rewarding about focusing on a single goal. For instance, getting an entire house in order requires the completion of many, many small tasks. Today I will be moving boxes from one side of my office room to the other, making way for my husband to sand a cedar closet tomorrow. Sunday, we will be emptying our temporary storage locker. It's been this way since early December, tackling one goal at a time until our home is comfortable, the priority of which remains steadfastly at the top of the list.

Holiday decorations? Not this year. Blog posts? Pushed aside for a while. Internet connection? Only when I really need it. A vacation with friends? I'm having enough fun setting up house.

I'm relearning from this adventure the value of focus, prioritization, accomplishment, and old-fashioned hard work. But the key in all of this is that the goal -- uncovering the charm of this house -- is unequivocally something that I want. That's the part that makes it easy, worthwhile, and permissible. What will be the consequences of saying no to everything else? Only time will tell.

I'm also learning the value of dramatic change. The mundane may be comfortable, but it sure is boring.

Still, I haven't forgotten the value of you, my reader, my friend. As I spend hours scrubbing a single wall, my thoughts linger toward planning the tasks necessary to continue writing for you. I expect to reemerge, charm uncovered, something old made new again. Until then, enjoy this period of dormancy and take advantage of it while you can.

From barren to green, engaged citizens made a difference.

September 13th, 2013

Did you ever wish you could do something to fix a serious problem where you live? Have you ever tried? Did you feel like giving up? This week I'm posting a story that proves it's worth it to keep trying. Some of you have seen it on my Facebook page already. I wrote it for Blue Ridge Outdoors, a magazine that covers outdoor recreation, micro breweries, and music festivals (three of my favorite things!). With a love for nature, the magazine also publishes environmental-issue-related stories, especially those in which engaged citizens have pitched in to solve a problem.

I grew up near Palmerton, PA, where my published story takes place. Over the years, I've watched with interest as an entire mountainside turned from completely barren to wonderfully green. I had to dig into the pre-digital archives (circ. 2000) to find these "before" photos of the scene.

The view from the Blue Ridge showing the Lehigh River and the barren mountainside

Glenn sits in a scene void of trees, in a place that should be as lush as the Delaware Water Gap.

In my quest to find out what had happened, I got to meet and talk with the lead man on this citizen-action, non-profit managed, simple-solution project that was anything but simple to carry out.

Click here to read the article.

The whole story could fill a book. Bound by a limited word count, this online article is just a summary. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions, or better yet, take your family on a trip to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center to learn more, right from the source. While you're there, you can see the "after" scene for yourself. And if you go, don't forget your hiking boots.

Meanwhile, do you have memories of Palmerton and the gap? Please share them in the comments below.

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Celebrate Through Learning

April 19th, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013 is officially Earth Day, and many of us will be celebrating the occasion this weekend. (I'll be picking litter out of the local stream on Saturday.) Our planet home certainly is something worth honoring.

It's been more than 40 years since the holiday's creation. Time has a way of graying out a purpose, and although there is no lack of participation in this event, it's helpful to understand the day's history in order to get the most from celebratory good intentions.

I briefly summarize the holiday's purpose in a piece I wrote for Lehigh Valley Marketplace. You can read it here.

The article goes on to talk about an issue pertinent to the valley region. Depending on where you live, environmental concerns might be related to something else, such as drought instead of flood. Whatever they are, the point is Earth Day is THE day to learn more about them. Or, if you are an educator, to teach more about them, to adults as well as children, the public as well as students. Strive to understand more about whatever Earth-related topic interests you, whether it be science, geography, history, politics, etc.

Misinformation and ignorance is nothing new, although it may feel as if we're drowning in it now more than ever. The truth is, we've come a long way. The cloud coming out of today's smokestack is far cleaner than what people had to contend with in the 1970s. But that's not to say we can relax and put our feet up, because the unscrupulous smokestack owners still have toxins to dispose of. They're just a lot more clever about bending the rules, rules put in place in part because of Earth Day. The more we arm ourselves with the truthful knowledge, the quicker we can identify such wrongdoings (and right doings) when we see them.

Meanwhile, celebrate! And do so knowing your actions are part of something big, really big ... like planet-sized big. And in the spirit of the day's original purpose, learn and/or teach, to stamp out that which the polluters love most: misinformation and ignorance.

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This Week's Small Step: Cheer

August 11th, 2012

Can you imagine practicing for hours, driving for miles, and walking into a single spotlight to deliver a performance to an audience of people you've never met?

“Do they like it?” “Do they like it?” The worrisome thoughts battle with the need to concentrate all the way through the song, the entertainer never really learning the truth until the end, that defining moment of applause.

For all the performers -- the ones on stage and the ones you live with everyday -- let this week's One Small Thing reminds you that you have the power to vindicate someone’s hard work with one simple gesture. You can always...


Cheer

As a non-performing musician who adores musical performances, I am sensitive to the thoughts and reactions of those who work so hard to entertain. These creative creatures add, beyond measure, value to a society that has forgotten how to entertain itself. Yet they are sometimes so easily taken for granted, as if the audience assumes the artist already knows how good she or he is; what reason is there for bothering to point it out?

A desire for positive feedback rests in all of us in some way. When talking about your day's achievement around the family dinner table, if the only response is the sound of chewing and swallowing, it can all feel pointless. We might know in our own minds and hearts that we did well, but an approving endearment builds our confidence and makes us want to keep doing more, to keep practicing, keep improving, and keep performing.

Similar to daily life, all the investment and passion and showmanship of the artist on stage gets funneled into one thing: the reaction of others. A tough life it must be, that of a musician, for having to base so much on something they cannot control. They cannot know if it's just a stuffy audience that refuses to give up a round of applause; they can only hope for an enthusiastic group, one that will graciously deliver praise when due.

And which audience do you think adds vitality to the moment for everyone? Which do you think makes the second set stronger and better? Which performance ends in "wow?"

In order to keep the music flowing and talent growing, we have to let them know we approve, that we appreciate the passion, that their output sparks an energy in our ears and hearts and minds, breaking the otherwise dull silence.

Few of us would deny, no matter how humble, that we do best with a little encouragement, and as the saying goes, you reap what you sow. Want the band to play with energy? Send them a little energy of your own. Want more appreciation? Display appreciation for others.

Musician, painter, actor, or little girl dancing in the kitchen who yells, “look at me,” people need you to cheer for them when you like what they do. Never assume the child, the friend, the spouse, or the performer knows you like their act. Acknowledge their talent.

Cheer.

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.

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