One of the overarching themes of the current issue of Liturgy is that contemporary life involves us in life transitions which are greater in both number and in type than our forebears had occasion to experience. Ritual practitioners are, therefore, called upon to develop new rituals in order to observe and celebrate (or lament) transitions for which our several prayerbooks offer no resources.
One of these new sorts of ritual occasions is the return of adult children to the family home, and their consequent reintegration into their parents life on often drastically different terms. Rev. James J. Clarke offers reads both a set of principals for the development and execution of these new sorts of rituals, and also two different scripts for how such a ritual might be performed.
So what are the essential elements of a family ritual like this?
- There needs to be careful discussion and preparation for the ritual.
- Goodwill must be brought to the ritual by all participants.
- Everyone must want to do it and commit to the covenant.
- Space/time are important; dedicate an appropriate amount of time.
- Accessible symbols should be used (simple, everyday).
- Words are to be used sparingly (e.g., covenant in this ritual would be no more than one page in length).
- The ritual can be as simple as the participants desire.
- There is no need for a professional facilitator, but it would be good to have the guidance of someone adept at understanding ritual and human relationships.
What’s happening in this ritual space? We are entering the realm of the soul via the avenue of imagination. In an amazing way this realm both contains and sustains strong and potentially conflicting emotions that otherwise might not find any other form of expression except in angry encounters. Rituals are a deeply human way of honoring the complexity of family relationships while at the same time offering the opportunity for transformation.
Can you think of any other “essential elements” to be considered in developing a family ritual like this one?
James J. Clarke (2012): The New Odyssey: Adult Children Returning Home, Liturgy, 27:4, 24.
The Rev. James J. Clarke currently serves as director of spiritual formation and assistant professor of spiritual theology at St. John’s Seminary. He is the author of Creating Rituals: A New way of Healing for Everyday Life (Paulist Press, 2011).