• Dina Stander

Celebrants & Ceremony in Response to Climate Grieving:


How is Earth's story calling to you in this time of great change? What opportunities are you offering your community to address the Earth's (and all earthlings') current existential predicament? And how are you coping with more immediate losses from climate change close to home? Are your people recovering from fire or flood? Is a family home being closed and left behind because of calamity? Are the plants you love best to grow no longer suitable for your climate zone?

My recent work has brought me into conversation with a group of climate scientists. These are folks whose field research efforts (on coral reefs and glaciers, in rain forests and deserts, in sinking island nations) are translated into reports of dire circumstances in ecosystems and biomes all over the planet, and whose international and community activism inspires others to action. They tell me, and the data is incontrovertible, that we have already begun a sixth great extinction. No longer if or when, no longer later, just now. And for most of us this is entirely and understandably incomprehensible.

When I first started thinking hard about how climate crisis will disrupt life as I know it the changes all seemed far down the road; maybe when I am an old lady, I thought, there will be troubles then. The increasing rate of change stuns me. The mounting intensity of climate effects is overwhelming. There are reports of a growing unease that it seems to me all of Earth's organisms feel, like a warning beacon blinking from the way back of our collective sensibilities. From every continent and across the spectrum of human experience I hear stories of a new grief rising from the deep well of our collective capacity to hear the song of life. We are in trouble.

Whether or not we are acting soon enough to mitigate disasters, act we must. Celebrants have an important part to play in the legacy humanity caries into the future. I suggest that our responsibility as ceremonialists, as humans who help other humans meaningfully connect with the web of life, is to find ways now to help people connect with the story of this world's beauty, even as the world we love recedes. I believe there is a gift we can bring to our communities, to help people learn the art of losing. To help us all to meet the rising tides.

In 2012, the day after hurricane Sandy hit the east coast with such devastating fury, I had a wedding near the Connecticut shore. Everyone made it there ok, even beloved Uncle Walter had managed to navigate safely from the far end of Long Island. It was a two hour drive from home to the ceremony venue, not so unusual in my New England practice. Every where you looked you could see there had been a howling blow. And everywhere, the beginnings of repair. People putting their backs into the job of seeing what remained, beginning the labor of restoring what could be made whole and letting go of the rest. I arrived at the swanky Inn a little early and sat in my car. Some one had cleared the downed branches from the parking area and piled them to the side.

I have come to understand that when we gather with people for ceremony in a time of great change or calamity we have a chance to connect with our loss and also with our capacity for healing and action. I am suggesting that the language we use to craft ritual, weaving traditions and creating meaningful thresholds, plays a critical role in encouraging people to save the precious seeds of the human story as we navigate survival on a radically changing Earth. Here is the poem I wrote, sitting there waiting for the appointed hour of my couple's wedding. I shared it with their permission as an extra opening to the ceremony with some words of introduction and a moment of silence for our changing world.

bending again (after hurricane Sandy)

there is a ceremony

dancing in my heart

for when the wind

has blown fierce

and the sea has

crashed ashore

rolling its fury

too far inland

and fire has

eaten houses whole

it is a ceremony to

accept the misplaced

boat and the broken road

and even the corrosive power

of salt water

because all of this

has happened

and we cannot turn back time

it is a ceremony

for making small steps

towards mending

forward and back again

and forward more

for bending and lifting

and the necessity of bending again

it is a ceremony too

for resting and being restored

it is a ceremony

to honor our care for

how the world

is put back together

again because nothing

is ever the same

after the weather has come

and the big winds blow

and the water rushes in

and the trains won't go

in my heart

a ceremony dances

to honor what was before

in my heart

a ceremony dances

to give strength enough

for gratitude and

the audacity to keep

what is needful so that

we can welcome the next

necessity to bend and lift

because it is required

of us again and again

I worry about little and big things. That my children's children will live in a world where famine is more common than plenty. That potable water will become scarce. That in my lifetime a Spring will come without the passions of the peeper frogs and the bling of redwing blackbirds perching in the reeds. And I celebrate little and big things. Greta Thunberg and the international student's strike. The continued discovery of new species of flora and fauna even as familiar ones become extinct. The reliability of the snow drops, the first spring flowers, that will emerge any day now from the moss and ice beneath the lilacs.

I suggest to you that the coming weather will require that we develop new muscles for grieving. The loss we experience from climate change will not be a one time event that we can move forward from and gain closure with and get that perspective that fuels the myth that 'time heals all'. We aren't going to heal from this, so we need to learn to grieve as we go. Our communities need Celebrants who can see loss on the horizon and begin now to create the personal and communal rituals that will grace humanity with continuity. And we need to invent new stories because who will understand what it means for a lion to trust it's paw to a mouse when there are no lions and no mice? Our new ceremonies must also celebrate the human capacity to make new stories, to witness our changing world and accept that in addition to every thing we are losing there will be new wonders for people to explore.

Celebrants are cultural seed-savers. Here is a picture of a Spring Mandala, a personal ritual that my colleague Barb Phillips shared. At the change of season she heads into the woods carrying bits she brings to combine with bits she finds. She makes a mandala ceremony to honor the seasonal and personal transition from winter to spring.

How are you coping with climate that changes? How are you setting your intentions for the new season? What opportunities are you making for artful losing? How are you preparing to help yourself and the people in your life witness great change and continue to turn towards mending the world?

Let's keep in touch with one another as we lean into this new learning about climate and community. Let's make the intersections in the web of life that Celebrants care for so wisely, the threshold and transition points, strong and resilient. Let us help humanity carry the stories of the beauty of this world into the world that will be.


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Contact:

Dina Stander

dinastander15@gmail.com

(413) 237-1300

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