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Beyond the flashbulb (05/24/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
“Rituals provide points of genuine connection with what is most authentically true…” “Rituals evoke a commitment of the heart.”

–Marianne Williamson

We’ve all done it. We tend to get carried away with pride and exuberance over the little girl’s adorable dress or the boy’s nifty haircut and necktie, how cute they all look fidgeting in front of the professional photographer for their group picture in front of the church altar. As I joyfully attended my granddaughter’s first communion ceremony, I was reminded of something I recently read in Marianne Williamson’s “Everyday Grace.”

She writes in her chapter entitled Ritual, “When I was a child, I had a sense, as most children do, of the mysterious power of religious ritual.” “I could feel the mystical energies they aroused within me. But as I grew older, I learned to forget the subtle vibrations of spiritual energy that emanate from moments of religious depth. Weddings became about bridal registries and pretty dresses, and baptisms became about baby gifts. I was not a child of God anymore so much as a child of American culture.”

Back to Alexandra’s first communion ceremony, I could feel the pride and the love, despite the commotion, as friends and family members crouched and moved in, focusing their cameras to snap the perfect shot. One uneasy girl fussed with her veil. An antsy boy turned to whisper to the kid behind him. It’s impossible for hearts not to melt at such a sight.

Adults sometimes forget that our actions and attitudes influence our youngsters’ tendencies and priorities. The ceremony itself sometimes seems secondary to how one looks, shiny shoes, the special hairdo, and if the suit is new and not brother’s hand-me-down. I’m sure the religion teachers gave their all to prepare their communicants adequately, despite the skimpy time allotted for religion classes.

When religious instructions aren’t upheld and instilled in the home, the youngster will likely drift away from it. Yet, the blessings from receiving holy communion are gifts embedded in the soul. If an individual doesn’t “get it” at the time, the blessings are eternal, there when one is inspired to be receptive to them.

What will be warmly recalled in years to come? Photographs in family albums are sentimental reminders, no doubt. But there’s that other voice, embedded more deeply, a mysterious awareness, a spiritual intimacy, and endearing virtues at work.

I remember how grown-up I felt in my light blue sheath, worn beneath the pure white gown, and my first high heeled shoes, for my confirmation ceremony at the Bethany Moravian country church. Another recollection has stayed with me, one that no camera had captured back in the fifties. It was a small room in the upstairs of the two-story parsonage, where a dim light enshrouded five young girls and a soft-spoken, white haired minister at his desk.

A faint scent of candle wax and fuel oil permeated the cramped study as Reverend Splies listened intently to each of us recite answers and Bible verses memorized from catechism booklets. A dreamlike memory remains of the humble, elderly minister at the unadorned altar, his head graciously bowed, and his hands folded in prayer.

Hymns, wholeheartedly sung in parts, swelled and drifted through opened, stained glass windows, to harmonize with breezes through ancient pines sanctified by the timbre of Moravian music, sung through the centuries by my family and our ancestors.

Marianne Williamson writes, “It’s the truth we remember at the end of our lives, or perhaps at the end of the life of a loved one. It’s the truth we see when the superficial preoccupations that compete for our attention and rob us of our life force begin at last to melt away.”

That country church is gone now; only the cemetery remains…and something genuine, harbored in the souls of those who worshiped there and at the many other churches that have kept Christian rituals vibrant and sacred.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 

 

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