The Power of Ritual and Belonging
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
This past weekend, I participated in a community blessing of a couple on the brink of giving birth to their first child. It was simple (especially with Covid protocols), yet profound. Though I been the recipient of 2 similar blessings, and I have participated in many parent-blessing ceremonies in the past, the potency still strikes me. Every time, I feel a deep stirring - a mixture of connection and sadness. In this day and age, it is vulnerable and rare to come together and witness each other in ritual, and I mourn the loss of these gatherings, and the connection they bring.
I believe that we are all in need of belonging…on every level, not just a home to live in, but a community to live with; not just a job to pay the bills, but a passion to share with the world; belonging to a group in which we can give, and also receive; not just a religious tradition to maintain, but spiritual connection to each other and the world. We started the ceremony by learning a sweet song, standing in a loose circle under the sun and recently snow-kissed mountains:
This is Home Where I belong In this Breath In this Heart This is Home Where I belong In the Voice In this Song ~Sophia Efthimiou ~ listen here
I recently moved my family back to the valley where I grew up, and it is my HOME in the most heart-satisfying way. Those who live here choose it because of the natural beauty, sense of belonging, and the community that exists here more than because of jobs or creature comforts more common in cities. The earth holds us, wrapped in the ancient folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We all walked to a lovely old wooden bridge over a creek. On one side, the friends who are not parents celebrated and decorated the expectant couple with Mardi Gras masks and beads. After a bit of hoopla, the couple ceremonially crossed to the circle of parents waiting on the other side. There, we gently removed their decorations, encircled them in the fabric of a baby wrap, and welcomed them to parenthood with a poem I wrote ( you can find it with the picture of the basket on Facebook & instagram). As we live our way through a global pandemic, the need to be seen and witnessed has largely gone unmet. In all honesty, this wasn’t a well-met need before the pandemic, as evidenced by the high rates of overwhelm, anxiety, and depression amongst new mothers. Record numbers of new moms are seeking therapy in the last few months. It is harder to integrate big life changes when we don’t see them reflected in others’ eyes. Many women and their partners are going through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum without being SEEN in real life by those they love most. This is a huge loss for them, but also for the collective as we carry on with life in our own bubbles, and our interconnection feels less tangible.
Ritual meets that need to be seen. As we sat in a circle sharing our vows of support with this expectant couple, the mama-to-be said that it occurred to her that their child will belong to this place, this community, and that excites her. What a wonderful gift to bestow upon your child: a village of support! We each have wildly distinct and varied gifts to bring to this new family and baby…all of them beautiful and necessary in their own way.
One friend pledged to play in mud puddles and be a ‘bad’ influence on their child, another to inspire delight, others to be an honest reflection and offer practical support. With so many unknowns ahead, how wonderful to be seen and supported in a multi-faceted way at the beginning of this journey! As we made our vows, we also presented the couple with objects from nature for their birth altar, that they might be reminded both of the natural way of things (like birth!), AND our support through the ordeal. Their beautiful handmade basket slowly filled with gorgeous sticks, stones, feathers, eggs, a pine cone and written words…
After performing these and other elements of the ceremony, each participant left with a joyful heart, a red string on their wrist to cut when labor begins, a candle to light through labor, and a sense of connection to each other and humanity…the circle of life. Pausing in our daily grind to sing, witness, vow, honor, unify, support and love is soul-satisfying to all involved – both the givers and the receivers.
Afterwards, this expectant mama told me, "The ceremony helped me feel witnessed and held by the community. Now when I have a need for support, I remember everyone's promises they offered to us and feel more empowered to ask for help.
"The most meaningful part of the blessing for me was crossing the bridge into the circle of parents... I never thought I would be a parent, so to hear y'all singing a song about Belonging on that side as we crossed made me realize the decision was finally over, that I now belonged on that side of the bridge. The poem you shared made me feel welcomed and supported in the transition, but it was still somewhat shocking-- as I reached the other side, I realized that I am really crossing this threshold to become something I have never been before. Until the ceremony, I hadn't had space to realize that so clearly." Too many of us don’t take that pause, and arrive in parenthood bewildered and alone. How might we incorporate more ritual in these life changes, or our everyday lives? How might we feel a sense of home, of belonging, in our breath, in our hearts, voices, and songs? Sending many blessings and inspiration to create your own rituals and rites of passage, Molly
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Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.