A big part of the spiritual journey is the Via Negativa that invites us to grieve. Without grieving we can get stuck spiritually with no new life flowing.
Shared rituals of grief can release this stuckness: not stale predigested ceremonies, but fresh and living rituals arising out of the needs of the people.
The reinvention of ritual matters for many reasons. My dream is that someday all of our cities will have a ritual center just as they all now have cinemaplexes. In such a ritual center, real community issues of shared joy and grief, creativity and communion can be realized in an interfaith context. (Maybe we already have those centers and they are churches that are often abandoned today.)
I have seen, repeatedly, the impact of ritual on grief:
- In 2012 I was invited by Sounds True to lead a grieving ritual at their annual conference held in the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park. Eight hundred people were in attendance representing a great variety of traditions, including Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Sufi, goddess, indigenous, and non-believers. I led a one-hour grief ritual which we use in an abbreviated form in our Cosmic Masses, and the response was very powerful. One man said to me, “I have been seeing a psychiatrist for twenty-one years and I am firing her on Monday. This is what I needed all along.” Others told me their lives were changed by that one ceremony.
- I led a grieving ritual with about eighty socially responsible business people at their annual retreat in Santa Fe several years ago. After the ritual one man told me he had been carrying grief issues for twenty years and felt years younger for having let it go. Another said he had walked away from a creative project around alternative energy three years previously, but now he was ready, thanks to the ritual, to return to it.
- Time and again after the Techno Cosmic Mass I hear stories like: “I loved it all but the grieving was the most powerful thing for me. I grieve alone in my bedroom but no one has every invited me to grieve with others before.” Once a woman came up to me and said: “I am a fierce atheist—so fierce that when I walk down the street and there is a church I cross the street to go by the church. But during the Mass, when we did the grieving part, something happened to me”—and she pointed to her heart—“by the time communion came along I was hungry for some. My whole life has changed here tonight.”
Yes, we are all hungry for the power of ritual, the joy that it can bring alive in us; and the grieving it can assist with processing.
Queries for Contemplation
Do these stories speak to your experiences in grieving? Remember those times.
How did you deal with your grief at that time? What has life taught you about the power of grief?
Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.