When Actions Speak Louder…

I write a lot about customs and rituals; why am I always going on about this? What does it even mean, and why is it important?

Rituals are actions and words that are performed repeatedly and represent something specific. Something as simple as walking down the aisle at a wedding is a ritual. Symbols are the physical representation of ideas and thoughts. And both, either separate or together, move us beyond words. Symbols and rituals have been a part of all cultures for as long as… well, culture has existed. The Roman Catholic Church has amazing, old and mesmerizing rituals, and a lot of people tell me that is one reason they attend church.

Many rituals are tied directly to location, that is, countries, regions, and language, and others tied more to religion, where they have always played a huge role.  Rituals add a sort of magic, they allow the imagination to soar and connect us in ways mere words do not. In themselves, rituals and symbols do not hold power, it’s how they are used by us humans. They clearly have been used for better and for worse.

For weddings, as in the afore mentioned walk down the aisle, ritual is very important. That is because it connects us to the past while also creating a bridge into the future, which is exactly what needs to be done for an important milestone in life.

And while rituals can come from your background, whether faith tradition, culture, or your spirituality, how you see life and the greater world around us, rituals can also come have roots in your interests or passions. That is something quite different from the traditional, prescribed way of doing things. Ritual that is modern, quirky, and outside of the norm, can still be a ritual.

Take Water for example

Water has great meaning in religion, from baptism and holy water, to the sacred Ganges River in India, water is an ancient symbol. But it could also mean a lot to you if you love to be by the water, fish, or enjoy water sports. You may be concerned about the environment and the importance of access to clean water. I know many people find peace simply sitting by water, whether a river, lake, stream or ocean. I know I do.

If your wedding is taking place by the water – what an amazing opportunity to talk about that symbolism, even without necessarily doing any ritualistic action. I have, however, used a near-by body of water, by tossing pebbles into it after the ceremony, representing wishes, or blessing, or sending prayers into the universe, noting our place in nature and the world.

I also love using water as a symbol in a ritual, in fact, anything that relates to nature always appeals to me. But when I create a wedding, it isn’t about me. (Just needed to be sure to say that!) So, if the couple relates to water, we’ll explore it. How? It could something like sharing a drink of water, watering a plant or tree, pouring water back and forth, anointing, almost anything can be turned into a meaningful ritual given the right symbolism. It has to fit.

Water can be used for washing feet, in an ancient tradition that symbolizes being humble, serving another, and of course, purity. In Christianity, it specifically represents of the love Christ showed for his disciples when he washed their feet. I found it especially moving when Pope Frances washed the feet on immigrants, including Muslims, Hindus, Catholic and Coptic Christians.

In Judaism, it is customary for mourners to wash their hands upon leaving the cemetery as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. And in Islam ritual cleansing with water is done to the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet and is an important part of ritual purity before prayer. In all these traditions, water is a beautiful symbol of humility, devotion and caring.

Water or wine, ancient or modern, religious or secular, ritual is the language of ceremony.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography

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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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