|Rituals to Celebrate and Heal
By Sr. Patricia E. Hudson CSJ, LMHC
I first learned about the healing and celebratory roles of rituals while attending a lecture given by Evan Imber-Black in New York City more than 20 years ago. It motivated me to begin exploring rituals that would fit into my practice and in my family and personal relationships. I began to explore rituals—good and bad—ones that I had experienced and newly created ones.
Many years later, I still use rituals in my work with families and teenagers. For example, I recently worked with a family that had a secret, which they had kept from their oldest daughter. The man she called “Dad” was not her father. The girl had become suspicious and began to ask questions about it. It was time for the family to tell her the truth. In order to make it a positive experience for her, her parents and I came up with a ritual that included her mom telling the truth in private and her dad joining them to profess his continued love for her as his daughter. It was symbolized by an engraved piece of jewelry and a pre-arranged blessing of the three of them as one family from the parish priest. There were candles, flowers, and music during the blessing. The family decided they would celebrate this ritual every year on its anniversary.
Growing up, there were family rituals that I didn’t recognize until I became interested in the healing and destructive powers of rituals. Because I was the youngest, I always crawled under the Christmas tree and decorated the back of the tree with odd or broken balls and strung the lights. After the tree was finished, my older brothers and father lit the tree and would run outside to see how it looked. They would make a racket to coax the neighbors into the cold to see the tree. My mother and I would go to the kitchen and prepare the eggnog and cookies. Even though I felt proud of my work, I always thought my part in this family ritual wasn’t very important. Finally, as a teenager, I talked to my mother about my insignificant role and the primacy of my older brothers when decorating the tree. She said, “But your part of the tree is all the neighbors actually see through the window. Yours is the most important part.” Years later, I realized that I had participated in a family ritual that was so much a part of me that I still always decorate the back of the tree in my home and then get the eggnog and the cookies for my friends. I miss the noise my brothers and father used to make, and I hold the memories of the yearly family ritual of decorating the Christmas tree in my heart.
Rituals do not have to make sense to everyone. They just have to make sense to you. When your family is upset because there has been an argument, what ritual can you plan that enables everyone to get past it and start over? It can be simple or rather lengthy. I knew a family that would address family conflict by using a Sunday night ritual that had been suggested by an old monk. Everyone stood in circle and had to hold hands, which is a difficult task for teenagers who are at war with each other. The father led the family meeting. Each family member had to say something that he or she was disappointed about during the week and something that felt good. There was no discussion. The father finished the ritual with a short prayer that often included the events that took place during the week. There was always a family treat at the end of the ritual, like ice cream sundaes or plans to go out to dinner and the movies.
Ritual makers use candles, incense, songs, fire, seashells, sand, writing, and anything else that makes the ritual a memorial or healing experience. It is an opportunity to create something unique that acts as healing or celebration. Sometimes, a ritual is a once in a lifetime occasion, while others become part of the family or group tradition. For example, my nieces and nephews pick apples every year. Then they enjoy gallons of homemade applesauce, apple pie, baked apples, and anything else made with apples. It is a time when they reminisce about happy events and dismiss petty hurts that happened during the year. It works as a healing for them. Why not try to create your own rituals when there is a need to celebrate or to heal?
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