Monday, July 09, 2007

one year later, reflecting on ritual

Coming back from Ben and Julie's wedding in Boston, (a ridiculously short trip), I've found myself considering rituals again. Jess and I got married just over a year ago now, and I still haven't really had a chance to reflect on some of the decisions we made for our "blessed event".

In our own wedding planning, I found that a lot of the ritualized aspects of it made me uncomfortable from the beginning - I wanted to avoid a lot of the traditional aspects as much as possible. I wonder if I was being fair there, or simply reactionary - a knee jerk questioning of the rules. Some of this resistance to ritual/tradition/church ceremony was surely rooted in my social discomfort at church when I was young, but I think there's a lot more to it than that.

Thinking about ritual now, I'm having real difficulty coming up with a ceremony that I was a part of (before my wedding) that held real meaning for me. Baptism/confirmation/various graduations/sing-alongs/camp-rituals/nightly blessings etc. - never really meant too much to me. They even bothered me.

I love shared experiences, and in a lot of ways, I take pains to create those situations, but in some ways I seem to consistently rail against group activities. It feels odd, like I'm having some kind of cognitive dissonance there, so I'd like to figure it out more.

I hear that people like rituals because they offer a way to mark transitions, or because they bring people together, or because they get something out of communing with people in that way - being a part of a larger whole or losing the ego, perhaps?

I'm trying to come up with situations where ritual was good for me in any of these ways, and it's tough. I keep coming back to when my high-school graduation was rained out. Now that was a marker. It was real, it was over, and it was cathartic. When they decided to skip the valedictory speeches in favor of starting to call names immediately, I loved it. In the "E"s when it started really pouring, and everyone started screaming and scattering, I thought, "Now this is really the end of this era." That was a time when I really appreciated rain as a cultural symbol. the symbols of mortarboard, gown, diploma, etc. were still silly though.

The other thing I can really appreciate about ritual is the "it brings people together" bit. For me, that was a big part of wanting a wedding. I did want a marker too, a way to communicate to my community that I was in a different stage in my life. But mostly the wedding was an excuse to have a big party where lots of my friends could meet each other, and meet Jessica. For that, it worked really well. Certain rituals do have a way of getting people to turn out.

At my Uncle Dennis' funeral last month, I really did appreciate that element. It was a good time for us to be together as a family - to have that social time together. But the ceremonial aspects of it were totally unnecessary for me. My dad's side is Catholic, and once again, I found myself just marvelling at how weird it was. Most of the funeral service was so strange - the priest kept incorrectly referring to Dennis as "Michael" - there was a lot of repetitive call and response, some even stranger readings from the Bible - and I just kept wondering how this was helping. I know my Grandma gets something out of it, but I really struggle to understand why. I think she might like to have that conversation, and I hope we can talk about it some time.

The good part of the funeral, for me, was the remembrances that were a part of the ceremony. The priest forgot that my dad and Uncle James wanted to speak, but once they did, it was good. The rest was just waiting, at best. The personal bits are the best. At Ben and Julie's wedding, the parts that they added to the ceremony were the parts that worked for me. So, yeah, maybe I can be down with ritual, if I view the ritual as a culturally specific blank canvas. Still, if the people holding the ritual didn't break from it at some point... For me that would be like an unpainted canvas, or an empty stage. For me, the viewing before Dennis's funeral was like that. The priest had no contact with Dennis, he had nothing to add but empty motions.

From my own church-going days, I remember that I occasionally enjoyed the reflective sermons of one particular minister, and that 7-10 minutes could have interesting things to think about, but the rest of the hour was usually painfully dull for me. I'm still not won over. There sure is a lot of useless framing most of the time.

Another way I could look at this is to think about how I go about marking special events or turning points. It occurs to me that for a long time, I would change my facial hair when there was a change in my life. Lately I haven't been doing that - there have been significant changes with no impact on my facial hair - but I think us getting a kitten was very much like a marker in our lives.

Enough for now. I hope I come back to this again soon.

2 Comments:

Blogger kate said...

belated happy anniversary and uber-belated happy birthday (been meaning to email but i am a scrub). just wanted to say that i really enjoyed your wedding. it was one of the first weddings i've ever been to where i wasn't involved, and it was nice to just hang out and watch things unfold. as someone who is not overly down with ritual either, i found the one that you and jessica created to be pretty refreshing. and the hangtime was great. congrats on doing things your way (not that you wouldn't, of course), and on the first year of a new era.

5:37 AM  
Blogger aaron said...

thanks kate -

the hang-time was what i really wanted, after all, and I think it did work out pretty well that way.

congrats to you too on moving on to new and better job opportunities. Fresh!

4:35 PM  

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