Category: ritual


anarchy ring

An anarchist friend who knows I officiate weddings asked if I could sign their wedding paperwork, and adamantly specified that they don’t want any of the standard assumptions of what marriage means.  They’re in a non-monogamous romantic partnership and are having a child together. They mostly want to get legally married to simplify the logistics of paternity (in VA, a father only goes on the birth certificate if he’s legally married to the mother, or does extra paperwork after the fact), and also to make it easier for him to travel internationally to the country of which she is a dual citizen.

There are only two necessary pieces to do a legal wedding. First, I have to ask the people getting married to answer affirmatively to a “statement of intent”, which essentially just means “do you want to marry this person?”.  The only other legal part is the “pronouncement”: “I now pronounce you married”.  Everything else, I tell all my couples, is there for you to feel married at the end of the process… whether it’s the traditional format of white dress and bridal party and having your dad walk you down the aisle, or creating your own unique ceremony from scratch, or cobbling together different wedding traditions from around the world.

But this couple wanted the opposite.   They didn’t want to feel married at the end of it. To the contrary, they wanted to feel not married. So we had an un-wedding. She wore pants, suspenders, and a hat. He wore a white flowy skirt and a white blouse. For the statement of intent, I wrote some Anarchist Wedding Vows:

Do you agree to enter into a legal contract of marriage with this person? Do you pledge that this legal status of marriage will only be used for the practical logistics of raising a child and travelling internationally together, while continuing to undermine the system from which this status is provided?

Do you agree that this legal status creates no new expectations for your relationship, no new rights or responsibilities in each others’ lives, and no assumptions of either monogamy or gender roles in your relationship?

They both said the requisite “I do”, and then for the pronouncement, I said:

“I now pronounce you legally married, and personally autonomous.”

At the end they shook hands, high-fived, and then tore up their fancy “Certificate of Marriage” (which many couples get calligraphied but doesn’t have any official purpose), and threw the pieces in the river.

This wedding confirmed for me that what it takes to make a great wedding (or any ritual) is being clear on what the purpose is. This couple was clearly grounded in their love for each other, expressed through being really specific about what their commitments to each other are, and aren’t. They honor each other with clarity and autonomy, and it was an honor for me to create a wedding that celebrated that.

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Rituals are for honoring or creating change.  We don’t have rituals for things staying the same, because a stream tends to follow its path once it’s been created.  And really, what stays the same anyway?  Change is constant…

So I’ll re-state: ritual is for honoring or celebrating intentional change.  In a wedding, of course, we’re honoring a change in a relationship.  We can dress it up with flowers and music and fancy clothes, but what a wedding is really about is the change in relationship — and that is marked by the vows.

Vows honor what is new with the label of “married”.  What commitments didn’t we have before, that we are making to each other now?  What has been vague or implied before, that is now ready to be stated concretely?

Vows are about more than “I love you to the moon and back”.  I had a partner who used to ask “What do you mean?” whenever I said “I love you”.  Annoying as that was, it kept me honest.  It kept me from using vague words for communicating something specific.  Wedding vows get to the meaning of this marriage — not anyone else’s marriage, or generic Marriage.  What are you committing to your partner?  What does it mean to you that you are going to be that person’s married partner?

Some couples like to make individual vows to each other (often as a surprise to the other person), and then have a common vow that they’ve agreed on ahead of time.  This allows for each person to do their own thinking about what they are committing to their partner, and also have a clear understanding with each other about what this marriage means.

Couples looking to write their marriage vows often find looking at samples helpful, even if just to get a sense of what you know you don’t want!  Here are several links, and of course a web search will bring you many many more examples… just remember, your wedding is yours to create, so you get the intentional change you want out of the ritual!

Huffington Post: 10 Honest Marriage Vows You Never Hear

Bridal Guide: 30 Examples from Different Traditions (including non-religious)

A Practical Wedding: Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows

One of the benefits of working at a church is having open access to sacred space.  We have a meditation room here that’s open 24 hours a day, and it rarely gets used.  I’ve made it my routine to start my day here, to walk into this beautiful, open room with large windows on two walls, and have some time to myself before I start work.

I only started doing this when I began attending seminary, and a daily spiritual practice was a commitment we made, part of our “homework”.  It took me weeks of setting the alarm for 5:30am, and then pressing snooze until 7, to realize that getting up in the morning before everyone else wasn’t going to work for me.  I finally decided that I could take half an hour after dropping off my daughter at school, before stepping into my office in the morning.  Sometimes I meditate, sometimes do yoga, dancing, or writing, or some combination of those.  I almost always begin or end with pulling a card.  This practice feeds me in amazing ways, helping me start my day with focus, intention, and a reminder of the real work I’m here to do.

Yesterday, I knew I had a meeting in the afternoon that would be emotionally tricky.  A co-worker wanted to take over an exciting project we had developed together, and we had already had one very intense and emotional conversation about it.  I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting much throughout my morning in the meditation room, until I sat down to pull a card.  “What do I want insight on today?” is a question I often ask myself when I get out the cards, and the answer came up in me clear and strong, remembering the meeting.  I took a deep breath and shuffled the cards gently, looking for the one that would jump out.  After a few patient minutes of sifting the cards, two poked up like they were raising their hands to be called on in class.  I pulled them out, set the other cards aside, and looked at the images.

I had the 9 of Wands and the Queen of Pentacles.  The 9 of Wands indicates defensiveness, having one’s finger on the trigger and ready to fight, to stubbornly protect what one has.  The Queen of Pentacles relaxes peacefully on her garden throne, generously sharing her abundance because she knows the secrets of a deeper source.  Because of her knowledge of the “magic” of the natural world, she is confident in her ability to get what she needs, and what she wants.

Image                                  Image

I saw these cards as representing 2 of my options for the meeting.  The last time we met about the project, I had quickly gotten defensive and fearful of loosing a project that was important to me.  I clenched my fist around it and got angry.  In the following weeks, I worked through my experience and untangled my thoughts and emotions, and came to some clarity about what I wanted.  I found the pathways out of my defensiveness (again and again).

The cards reminded me of the choice I would get to make that afternoon, and in that moment in the meditation room, I chose.  I turned over the 9 of Wands and focused my attention on the Queen of Pentacles.  I breathed in, and let myself feel her energy spread throughout my body.  I let myself become her, knowing that the Tarot represents archetypes that we all carry within us all the time.  It wasn’t anything the card itself imparted into me, just a reminder that I could let that aspect come forward and take prominence.

I kept the card propped up at my desk all day.  I held the image in my mind as I walked down the hallway for the meeting.  During the meeting when I noticed myself getting defensive, the image of the 9 of Wands flashed in my mind, and I mentally turned the card over and brought up the image of the Queen of Pentacles.  As I spoke, I held her image lightly in my mind, reminding me (again and again) of the power of self-trust and generosity that come from confidence in the deepest source.

I listened with compassion, and I spoke with intention.  We explored options together, and agreed to move forward by trying something new.  This is the work of collaboration, of creative problem solving,  and it takes effort, strength, and trust.  It’s not easy.  The tarot was my tool yesterday, helping me move more into being who I want to be — who I know I can be, when I don’t get tangled up in fear and ego.  The evocative images help us connect with potent archetypes of human possibility, and remind us of the larger journey we’re on.

Read more on my work with tarot here.

I’m pretty excited to be stepping back into blogging.  Integrating the old “Over the Edge” commune blog into “Passion and Patience” is fulfilling work… turning my seemingly-fragmented life into a cohesive body of work.  Tonight I’ve been re-reading posts from the last several years  — seeing what feelings, intentions, and pursuits have persisted or changed, especially since leaving the commune in January 2006… almost exactly 6 years ago!  In honor of that anniversary, I’m re-posting part of my entry from January 23, 2006, just a few days after I left:

journey of colorI’ve left Twin Oaks. In most moments, it doesn’t feel particularly extraordinary. I’m here at my partner Free’s house, hanging out with him and his kids. This is familiar to me; this has been a part of my life for nearly a year… this house, these people. I’ve been slowly integrating myself into this place (and this place into myself), and it doesn’t feel significantly different to be here without Twin Oaks to return “home” to… yet.

Right now, from the comfort of a house where I feel supported and loved, on a cozy Monday morning of tea and NPR, it’s hard to dive into the grief and fear of two days ago. Where to start? I spent my last day at Twin Oaks in a strange limbo. I had high expectations… I wanted intensity and meaningfulness, symbolic releases and powerful goodbyes. Instead, the whole day was fairly mellow. I had a morning date with Hawina, who has been a giant force in my life since early in my membership. She’s Paxus’ life partner and co-parent, and throughout my time at Twin Oaks we had several intense rounds of polyamory-induced emotional and logistical processing. We started to develop our own independent relationship through working together on the Mental Health Team over the last year, and our friendship now is deeper than I would have expected, given our history.

We chatted for awhile, then walked around the community and told each other stories of our experiences in different places. We ended up at the dining hall, and went inside for lunch. I got a plate of food and sat down with a group of friends in a small lounge area. Taking in the scene around me, friends laughing and entertaining the new baby, I felt an immediate emptiness, noting the joy and comfort and deep friendship I would be leaving in just a few hours. A friend across the room made eye contact with me, and the tears that had been building in my eyes suddenly released down my cheeks. She came over and wrapped her arms around me while I sobbed. I don’t mind crying in public; in fact, I like it. I want it to be natural to see people expressing sadness. I want to embrace sadness as an acceptable emotion, and so when I’m sad I don’t go hide out somewhere to cry unseen.

Other friends came over and sat with me, holding me and stroking my head. I calmed down and talked about how weird it felt to be there with them, and be on completely different trajectories. They were engaged in the continuing functioning of the community — I wasn’t. I was engaged in extracting myself from the fabric of their lives, while their lives continued on.

After lunch I spent a few hours getting ready for my goodbye party with another woman, Alexis, who was also leaving in a few days. We decided to have party together, sharing the experience of letting go and moving on. We decorated a large living room with all of our clothes and other items we were getting rid of, for other people to take. We hung clotheslines around the room to display our clothing, and laid out candles, earrings, condoms, and posters for our friends to choose from.

Once the room was ready for the evening’s festivities, I left to say my final goodbyes to the community. I walked around with my journal and took a few moments in different places around the commune to write memories and reflections on my experiences in those places. I wrote in the dining hall about rehearsals for musicals, meals with friends, wild dance parties, and hackey sack circles outside on sunny days. In the dairy barn, I wrote about the smell of the cows, the playfulness of the calves, the intuitive skill of herding, and the silence of solitary winter mornings. In a high field near the graveyard, I remembered moments of retreat and reflection, rituals for full moons and other pagan holidays, and running in the rain for sanctuary when my grandmother died.

In that same pasture, I engaged myself in a ritual of release. I had brought a piece of wood that I found in Maine before I moved to Twin Oaks, a bouquet of lavender from the herb garden that had been hanging in my room, and a rock I had found during a full moon mediation in that very field. I released the wood and set it softly on the earth, symbolizing that which I brought to Twin Oaks with me, and was leaving there: hesitance, passivity, deference to authority, fear of being wrong, naive independence. I then scattered the lavender beside it, symbolic of that which I acquired and experienced at Twin Oaks, and was also leaving behind: the cows, the land, daily responsibility to community members, full benefit of the collective resources of the community, safety, sanctuary. Finally, I held the rock against my chest, envisioning the confident, powerful, compassionate Self that I’ve found at Twin Oaks. Awareness and empathy, clear and honest communication, an active sense of responsibility… I want to carry this persona with me as I move on, and so I brought the rock, infused with that vision, with me. I looked at the wood and lavender on the ground, and felt the weight of the rock in my hand, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to symbolize that which I brought with me and am also carrying on with me. I looked through my bag and couldn’t find anything that fit the description, so I used my body, my eyes and lungs and nose and skin and heart. I thanked my body for carrying me to Twin Oaks, and thanked it for staying healthy enough to carry me away.

I came down from the pasture, and had enough time before dinner to hang out a bit with Paxus. It felt important to spend some time together on my last day, rooting ourselves in our continuing connection despite our many changes. We will certainly have a different relationship now that I’ve left Twin Oaks; what it looks like is up to us.

After dinner, I headed down to the courtyard to finish preparations for the party. Alexis and I had decided to have a “feed your friends” party, where no one fed themselves from their own hands. Instead, we had finger food (pineapple, grapes, chocolate, popcorn, and cake) that people could feed to each other. Once it got rolling, people walked around with platefulls of food and offered to feed each person they interacted with (I did it a lot, and loved it!). The whole party was great — folks grabbed the clothes we had on display and wore them as party outfits. We had a coffeehouse where people performed (juggling, singing, and spoken word tributes to Alexis and me), and we all danced until late in the evening. I returned to my room around 1am to finish packing. I went to sleep at 4:45 and woke up again at 6:15 to get ready to leave with the 8am trip into town.

I spent my last hour and a half at Twin Oaks running around doing final details, cleaning out my message slot, returning things I’d borrowed, and emptying my trashcan. I found Paxus one last time for our final goodbye, and then picked up my bags to load into the minivan. A friend had posted a note on the office door for me, saying simply “You will be missed” in big bold letters. I took it down as my tears started, and held it in my hand as I climbed into the van with the other folks going into town that day. We drove around to the dairy barn to pick up the milk that was to be delivered to cowshare customers (though raw, unpasturized milk can’t be sold, people can buy a share in a specific cow and receive milk from the cow that they partly own). On top of that day’s milk was another note for me, from a friend who was that morning’s milker and knew I was going in with the town trip.

Her note kept my tears flowing as we drove away from Twin Oaks, my home of three and a half years. Folks in the van asked me about my plans, and assured me that I could always come back if I wanted to. The driver offered jokingly to turn around. I cried, and felt comfortable with my tears. I chatted with a friend who I hadn’t spent much time with lately, a man named Thomas who joined the community just before I did.

The 45 minute drive passed quickly. We dropped one woman off at an early dentist appointment, and then everyone else unloaded at the downtown library. Before we headed off in our own directions, Thomas hugged me tightly and offered to help me carry my bags into the library. “No thanks,” I said. “I want to know I can do it all by myself.” It wasn’t a feminist political statement — more, it was a symbolic act of independence and my capacity to take care of myself.

As I write it now, I realize that’s only part of it. The truth is, we are all interdependent, whether we recognize it or not. The very nature of life on Earth is interdependence. Living in community just makes it more tangible. I don’t want to forget that truth simply because it’s more obscured in the mainstream culture. And yet, it felt important to me to feel my independence as I walked away from the van and my life at Twin Oaks.

Friday was hard for me, more than I expected. Sitting in the library, I felt aimless, no roots, no direction, just floating in limbo. I spent the day in deep grief and sadness about leaving my home and my friends of over 3 years, wondering what I’m heading towards and being fearful about not knowing. I cried with Free and he held me. I blamed him for picking me up late at the library and dragging me around town to run errands, and he held me. I cried and talked about my fears and he just gave me the space to be scared, giving me his love and reminding me about hope and faith.

Then on Saturday, I borrowed the car and ran some errands around town. I started a bank account. I stopped by the library to check my email. I sang in the car about how the earth is my home. I’m not rootless, I’m rooted in the earth and the global community.

As I walked down the street towards the library, this time unencumbered with bags, I felt my independence and my interdependence merging. I smiled at people I passed on the street, and they smiled back. This is my mandate for myself on this piece of the journey. Trust myself, and trust other people. Remember my independence, my capacity to create what I want, and my strength, and at the same time remember my connection with others, my responsibility to the people around me, and my commitment to honoring each person for who they are, even when I don’t understand them. We’re all in this together.

lots of fire!

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday — it feels pretty big, much more than any other birthday since 20, I think.  21 was no big deal because I already drank alcohol, and not much of it, so nothing really changed.   There’s something about my sense of self that changes with these decade birthdays… a shift in my perspective on who I am in the world.

30 feels like turning outward, after spending my 20s learning about myself and testing out my ideas and ideals.  My 20s was about experiencing and experimenting, opening up to new possibilities and pushing perceived limits… and then noticing how I felt, how other people reacted, and how I felt about other people’s reactions.  Data collection, my 20’s.

And now I have a sense of a mandate to act on the information I’ve gathered.  I know myself fairly well — I know my tendencies, my emotional and mental “gravitations”.   I know the well-worn paths and the traps that lie therein.  It’s my job now to take responsibility for all that, and navigate gracefully around the traps.

I know how to open when I’m shut down, and I know how I justify not opening up.  I know that I have a tendency to be controlling, and I know the power and the danger of that habit.  I know the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I know I enjoy life more when I do them:

  • EAT WELL– avoid wheat and sugar, and don’t skip meals
  • DRINK A LOT OF WATER — I need a beautiful water bottle that I carry everywhere, otherwise I forget to drink
  • GO TO BED EARLY — I can’t let Facebook suck me in night after night… I need to give myself a bedtime
  • WRITE IN MY JOURNAL DAILY —  I need a daily routine where I write at the same time every day (right now it’s when Aurora naps)
  • WORK WITH TAROT CARDS REGULARLY — I need to give myself over to magical experience to get out of the illusion that I’m in control here
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH AURORA — I need to plan things the day before so in the morning we get up and GO!
  • WALK IN THE WOODS — I need to have time surrounded by the creations of raw nature, rather than the creations of people
  • WORK WITH PLANTS — I need a garden, and I need to be making medicine from herbs
  • DANCE — I need to have a regular date with myself for dancing, otherwise I let it slide
  • CHALLENGE MYSELF — I get bored if things are easy… I need to be challenging myself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually if I’m going to feel satisfied with my life, because I want to be growing.

And the purpose of all of this is shifting to be more outward now — not just the development of self-awareness from my 20s, but now shifting outward to being of service, making my life a contribution to the communities I’m a part of.  This family, my circles of friends, this city, this world… humanity.   I feel like I’ve been scrambling since Aurora was born (15 months ago!) to reconfigure my modes of service.  It’s hard to be an “activist’ as I wash diapers and dishes at home.  As it’s all played out, though, I find myself focusing on theater and ritual as my contributions.  Jeffrey has supported me in performing in 2 shows in the last 6 months, staying with Aurora during rehearsals and performances.  The stage has always called me… from my first role as Goldilocks in kindergarten, right up to tonight’s opening night for Godspell.   Yes, this is a clear path for me.  Sometimes it seems like it’s so obvious that I forget I’m an actress, when I’m in angst about not having a focus, not having a “profession”.  I do, it just doesn’t pay.

Then the other path, more recently acknowledged, is that of holding space for ritual.  Being by my Grandma’s side during the last days of her life inspired me to pursue work as a chaplain, after I was already in training to become a doula.  Holding sacred space for birth and death (and marriage, and divorce, and other life transitions) is another clear path that stays lit when I’m confused about everything else.

I think writing all this out here helps me claim it, helps me say “YES — this is who I am right now, on the eve of my 30th birthday”.  Of course I have no idea what comes next, what I’ll learn in this next decade.  But, controlling as I am, I know I thrive when I have a clear and tangible plan for where I’m headed… even if it turns out to completely change.  I’ve learned that much about myself… so I move forward with that information, doing the best I can.

I started working on my first few doula training assignments after Rora went to sleep last night (and after I woke up 2 hours later, after falling asleep nursing her).

One of the first assignments was to write about an experience of someone dying, and look for similarities with the process of birth.  After writing until 2am, I realized that it’s Halloween today!  What a treat, to be exploring death on the day we honor the spirits that have crossed over!

Here’s what I wrote:

I was able to be with my maternal Grandma in the last two days of her life, through her death, and afterwards with my family as we processed the experience.  Being with her as she transitioned out of her body brought me to a deeper awareness of that sacred time between the spirit world and the physical world – and in fact, taught me tangibly that there isn’t such a clear distinction!

She was in a bed provided by hospice, set up in the living room of my aunt’s house.  We tried to make that space quiet and focused, but too often we became chatty and irreverent – and she clearly let us know that it was “TOO MUCH!”.  She didn’t like people casually talking or moving too quickly.  She wanted things done to her slowly, ever slower.  She wanted water, right up to her last hours, after she had refused food and medicine for days.  She wanted sunshine, and fresh air in the room.  Over the last two days, she wanted less and less restricting her body – first the pillows around her had to be a certain way, then no blankets covering her legs, then her shirt needed to be unbuttoned, then it came off altogether.  The oxygen tube around her neck was a constant irritation, and we finally removed it so she could be more comfortable.  She was adamant that she didn’t want anything to prolong her death – “Why is it taking so LONG?”

She often seemed frustrated when we didn’t understand what she was talking about, when she spoke out in the midst of a trance/sleep state.  She was experiencing something that none of the rest of us were experiencing, and we could often only guess at what she meant.  When we “got it”, she was clearly relieved and grateful.  She liked to be sung to, and gently touched.  She didn’t want to be alone.  She wanted to make sure she wasn’t being a burden to any of us, and at the same time, she clearly asked for what she wanted and needed.  “I might never taste carrot juice again if I don’t get some now!” Her social inhibitions mostly evaporated, making clear requests without politeness.  “I’m being myself for the first time.”

The day she died, the energetic shift in the hours beforehand was tangible to all of us on some level, though I don’t know how consciously.  We didn’t know she was going to die that day, but we all made significant changes that, looking back, indicated some awareness that everything was changing.  We spoke more softly, moved cellphones out of the room, and cleared the bedside clutter that had accumulated, replacing it with a few photographs and flowers.  We hung a blue curtain in the window, to soften the light.  Two of my aunts spent the day finding peace with each other, and were honoring each other over my grandma’s body when she took her last breath.

In the moments immediately after her heart stopped beating, we gathered in the room and celebrated her transition.  One aunt yelled “Hallelujah!” in a loving mimic of my faith-filled grandma.  I felt her spirit throughout the room, filling the space in a slow expansion.  I felt her on my body, in my body, and growing to encompass and permeate the whole house, then the city and the mountains and the globe and the stars and eventually the Whole Universe.  As I felt her spirit, I felt a taste of that Wholeness, an awareness that the only difference between the physical world and the spirit world is a perceived experience of the limitations of space and time.

I see clear parallels between death and birth after being with Grandma through her journey: the absolute need for sacred space, the slowing of time, the need for us to let her do and be and say whatever she needed and wanted to.  We were there to serve her, to honor her, and to witness her journey.  We responded to her requests and tried to intuit what she might want, but never forced her to do something that we thought she should do.  I guess the big difference between birth and death is that once you know someone is dying, there’s no need to fear death, or work to prevent it.  With birth, there remains the possibility (and thus the fear?) that the mother or baby could die, so we walk the balance between pursuing life and accepting death… while with someone ready to die, it’s just about surrender.

But then again, maybe birth is a different kind of surrender — surrendering to life.

Questions and Answers

Tonight I went to a healing circle for a friend who has cancer, and it involved all of us (eight women) reflecting on our own journeys, finding our own answers to our current “life questions” and seeing how they related to her journey.

My answer was clear (the question is irrelevant): there is no reason for me to hide who I Am, and every reason to shine.  I am powerful in sharing my Truth, and weak when I hesitate or hold back.  The question isn’t “what do I have to do to serve others?”… instead I move forward with the confidence that following my inspirations will serve in ways I can’t imagine or (have the arrogance to believe that I) control.  My path isn’t for me to “figure out” — it’s there for me to open to.  When I feel the inspiration, I simply have to follow it…

We all left the circle feeling centered in our sense of connection with something larger than us — and that in itself is healing for us all.  (One of the women recalled a saying that the shift from illness to wellness takes shifting from “I” to “WE”!)

The Wedding…

Today is the one year anniversary of our wedding! I figured in honor of the day, I’d post the script from the ceremony for your reading pleasure…

SETTING: summit of Sunrise Mounain, Stokes State Forest, Western New Jersey (the beautiful part of the state)…

1pm, sun shining, dark rain clouds in the distance, thunder in the background throughout

People will be milling around meeting each other and chatting until we show up at the top of the mountain. The band will be playing, and when Jeff emerges, the bandleader will stop the music and explain that Jeff is going to hide among the guests until Kate finds him (a Nigerian tradition). Band will then continue playing. When Kate finds him (and is able to touch him, not just see him in the crowd), the ceremony will begin. Tony will have the job of encouraging people to find their seats so that we can begin.

Juniper will start everything off by standing and explaining her role as “smudger”, and then she’ll light a sage smudge stick and walk around the circle while Faith and Moose play “Give Yourself to Love”.

JUNIPER: In ceremonies of all kinds, it is common to cleanse and purify the people and the space at the beginning of the ritual. My favorite word for this is the Native American practice called “SMUDGING”… My name is Juniper, and * I * am your SMUDGER!

It is believed that the smoke of sacred herbs wards off evil spirits or unwanted energy. I really want my Dad and Kate to have a nice wedding, so I’m going to burn a bundle of sage to protect the sacred space.

When the song is over and the smudging is done, Juniper will ding the chime. Tony will stand and begin.

TONY: Welcome to Jeff and Kate’s wedding ceremony! I’m Tony, Jeff’s brother, and I’m honored to be your Master of Ceremonies this afternoon. We’re here to celebrate the partnership that Kate and Jeff have chosen to pursue together, as well as to honor the human capacity for love.

Love knows no boundaries, no borders, no time zones. People all over the world love each other and celebrate partnership. Throughout their lives, both Jeff and Kate have been influenced by the cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs of people around the world, and they’ve created a wedding ceremony that reflects and honors many of these traditions.

With our help, Kate and Jeff will take part in several tasks that couples engage in during wedding ceremonies in different cultures. Some of the customs are playful, some are practical, and some are sacred. All of them are meant to celebrate the experience of joining in marriage.

We’ll start off with a task from here in North America, from the Navajo people of the Southwest.

CHRISTY: My name is Christy, I’m Jeffrey’s sister. In the Navaho tradition, a bride and groom would begin a marriage ritual by washing each other’s hands. A Marriage is the beginning of a new life. The individuals known as Kate and Jeffrey are washed away by the cleansing waters, no longer just individuals, but also bound as one.

Wash hands in wooden bowl…

AYDEN: I’m Ayden, and Jeff is my Dad. We now set forth to honor the parents of the bride and groom. It is not simply the gift of birth which makes it possible for Kate and my Dad to be here today, but the years of love, dedication and nurturing required to raise them. We witness today that wisdom has been

passed on as well, for how else could such great love come to manifest itself?

In both Chinese and Tibetan cultures, it is traditional for the bride and groom to hold a tea ceremony for the parents. The task given to Kate and my Dad is to properly honor their parents with such a ritual. The ingredients used in the tea symbolize fertility, and the tea is sweet to foster sweet relations with their new in-laws.

Serve tea to parents…

TALLY: I’m Tally, Kate’s aunt on her mother’s side of the family. My father’s parents came from Norway in the late 1800’s, and Faith and I grew up in a household that was rich with Norwegian influences, from lefsa to legends about trolls. The solier (sol-ee-ay) that Kate is wearing is a piece of traditional Norwegian wedding jewelry, passed down from our father to Faith, who gave it to Kate to wear today.

There’s a folk tradition in Norwegian weddings that typically happens on day four of the six-day wedding celebration, on Skaaledagjen – The Day of Toasts. Since a lot of us have traveled a long way to be here, we’re not going to wait around for three more days! Kate and Jeff, your task from Norway is to dance together on the top of a stump, so we can all see how well you work together in difficult circumstances!

Dance!

DANELE: I’m Danele. I’m Ayden’s mother and a close friend of both Jeff and Kate. I’m going to describe one of the most well known traditions from Africa: “jumping the broom”. This tradition originated in Ghana, where the broom was used symbolically to sweep away past wrongs. In America, the tradition of jumping over a broom became used among slaves, who weren’t permitted to marry legally. “Jumping the broom” was used by slaves to declare marriage to their friends and family, proclaiming a commitment to each other despite legal prohibitions.

Many sources say that jumping the broom symbolized the wife’s commitment to keeping a clean house, but since both people do the jumping, I’m sure it’s not just one person’s responsibility! It’s also used as a test to see who will be the leader of the household; whoever jumps the highest gets that reward.

Let’s have the kids come up to hold the broom, a few on each end.

So, Kate and Jeff, sweep away past wrongs, and let’s see your commitment to a clean house! And remember, whoever jumps the highest is the decision-maker in your home…

Take turns jumping broom…

WESLEY: I’m Wesley, Kate’s uncle on her dad’s side of the family. There’s another tradition that determines who is going to be the head of the household, so there’s still a chance to get even! This tradition is from Russia, where Orthodox weddings included a race between the bride and groom to be the first to step on a white rug at the other end of the church. The rug symbolized wishes that the newly wed couple should have wealth and prosperity and never need to face poverty standing on a bare earthen floor.

Kate and Jeff hope for wealth and prosperity, and also for an earthen floor someday! Instead of a rug, I’m going to lay down this circle of rope for them to race to. Whoever steps inside first will be the head of the household. On your mark, get set, GO!

Race… (whoever won broom jumping looses this time)

DAVID: In the Pygmie tribes of Africa, the groom has only one obligation to the bride’s family: to find a female in his family who is willing to marry a brother or male cousin of the bride. I’m David, Kate’s only brother, so I guess that means that Jeff is supposed to find me a girl! I’m just reading what’s written here on the card – this wasn’t my idea! Just so you know, I’m not really ready to marry anyone yet, so a hug or a kiss on the cheek will do just fine.

Free finds volunteer…

THEA: Hello. My name is Thea, and both Kate and Jeffrey are good friends of mine. One of the most common folk traditions is known as handfasting. Among the most ancient handfasting rituals are those of the Druidic tradition, where it was believed that the bride and groom embodied the Goddess and the God. I now call forth the divine in Kate and Jeffrey. Listen well and answer truly!

Hail, Goddess, Lady of the Earth! Holding in your secret heart the promise of plenty within the endless cycle of time’s stately dance, we salute you! Hail, mistress of abundance and wholesome, healthy life. Hail, Sister of us all.

Are you, our divine Sister Who Is All, prepared to open the abundance of your love and whatever crops you may harvest, be they physical, emotional or spiritual, to your Brother Who Is All to tend to his needs and seek his greatest growth in the richness of your soul’s richest soil?

KATE: As the Sister Who Is All Sisters, may it be so!

THEA: Hail, God, Master of the Fire! Purifying all within the bright, clean flame of passion, and the light of truth, we salute you. Hail, master of prosperity and good works! Hail, Brother of us all.

Are you, our divine Brother Who Is All, prepared to focus the flame of your desire for love and light, your passion for truth and right, on the well-being of your Sister Who Is All, casting out the shadows of the unwanted and unwholesome past and using your heat to warm, not burn and your light to guide, not blind your beloved?

JEFFREY: As the Brother Who Is All Brothers, may it be so!

Thea takes the handfasting cord and wraps it around our hands…

BETH: I’m Beth, one of Kate’s good friends. I know that both Kate and Jeff have been significantly influenced by Buddhist wisdom. One of the most important traditions in a Buddhist wedding in Thailand is the water ceremony, known as ROD NAM.

During the ceremony, the bride and groom kneel together. They are connected by a holy string around their shoulders or hands, symbolizing their spiritual union. One by one, guests walk up and pour water over the couple’s hands while offering a blessing or marital advice.

The water ceremony is usually performed by all guests older than the couple. Today, everyone here is invited to participate! You may speak your blessings and advice out loud, or participate silently. I’ll begin, the person to my right will go next, and we’ll just follow each other around the circle.

Water ceremony…

DAN: My name is Dan, and I’m a friend of Kate.

Perhaps the greatest gift that Jesus brought to the world was the message of Love. Your task, Kate and Jeffrey, is to hear these verses from the Bible, take them into your heart and Soul, so that they may always sustain and nourish your marriage.

1 Corinthians 13:1-12

I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.

Love will never come to an end. Are there prophets? Their work will be over. Is there knowledge? It will vanish away; for our knowledge and our prophecy alike are partial, and the partial vanishes when wholeness comes. Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face.

TONY: The ring bearer may now step forward with the rings.

Ruis gives rings to Kate and Jeff

TONY: Kate and Jeff have completed many tasks, from many cultures, symbolizing the power of the partnership we’re celebrating today. Now it’s time for them each to share individually about what this wedding means to them.

Jeff and Kate, as you speak, you’ll hold your partner’s ring in your hand. Let the power of your words fill the ring, so that as your partner wears it for the rest of their life, it will echo the words you speak today. Kate, we’ll start with you.

Kate speaks!

TONY: (pause) Jeff, now it’s your turn.

Jeff speaks!

TONY: (pause) Now it’s time for us to take these intentions that you’ve just spoken, and seal them with sacred vows. God has called us to live in union with the Holy Spirit and in communion with each other. The gift of marriage cultivates our ability to share happiness and sorrow, to give and receive, to understand and forgive, so that we may carry these lessons into all that we do in the world. In the presence of God and these witnesses, I ask you, Jeffrey, will you have Kate, who stands here before you, to be your wife? Will you love, honor, and be true to her, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for all of your lives?

JEFFREY: Yes, I will.

TONY: Likewise I ask you, Kate, will you have Jeffrey, who stands at your side, to be your husband? Will you love, honor, and be true to him, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for all of your lives?

KATE: Yes, I will.

TONY: I now invite everyone to stand.

(CONGREGATION STANDS)

TONY: Jeffrey and Kate have invited you here because they want to share this day with you, and because they desire your support and encouragement. You all have a role to play in their relationship. I now ask you as family, friends, and congregation, will you do everything in your power to support them in their marriage and give it your blessing? If so, please respond by saying loudly, “Yes, we will!”

CONGREGATION: Yes, we will!

TONY: Kate and Jeffrey, you have declared your intention to share with each other your joys and sorrows and all that the years will bring. Now it’s time for you to accept these promises from each other, by accepting the rings onto your fingers.

(rings on fingers and kiss!)

TONY: And so it is done! Let the whole world celebrate the partnership of Jeff and Kate!

Juniper dings chime!

TONY: The most universal of all wedding traditions is eating and drinking together! You are all invited to the reception at the Kittle Field Picnic area at the bottom of the mountain, which will begin as soon as we’re done with photos up here.

*************

Then the rain came while evryone drove down the mountain, and soon dissipated in time for dancing to great Klezmer music by the Vulgar Bulgars. After the reception, the more daring guests stripped down to skinny dip in a beautiful mountain stream (my favorite part of the whole day.

Tonight we celebrated by jumping over the broom again, this time with a baby in my arms…

Life update…

Thanks to Howard for the nudge of encouragement to write again! Here’s the latest update:

My “by the calendar” due date is April 29th, and my belly is growing bigger each day. Rounder and rounder… though my belly button has yet to pop out. I’ve been feeling sad about loosing my beloved innie, but I just realized a few days ago that I’m going to get to see a part of my body that I’ve NEVER seen before — the inside of my navel! What a treat!

Early in my pregnancy I bought a ring from an antique store (the same place Free and I found our wedding rings). I couldn’t choose between two rings: one had a vine with leaves on it, and I thought about it as a celebration of life and growth. The other one had a black onyx sphere in the center, round, like I knew my belly would become! I ended up buying both of them, thinking that maybe Free would wear one and I’d wear the other. I ended up choosing to wear the black onyx, because it was the one that I felt some resistance to, some fear. I wore it everyday, not really knowing the significance, but trusting it was there. One day (a few months ago) I asked myself about it while writing in my journal. “What’s the significance of the ring?” The answer came flowing through me clearly: it’s about embracing the unknown, the Great Mystery, limitless possibility. The stark blackness can be scary, and it can also be rich and alive. I still wear it everyday — my plan is to wear it until the baby comes, and then ??? Eventually I’ll give it to the child, as part of a rite of passage. Maybe I’ll wear it all through its childhood? I don’t really know. I still have the other ring sitting on my altar, waiting for its purpose.

I don’t have much of a specific sense of the baby… whenever I direct my focus to the being inside me, I just get a sense of its total wisdom, its connection to ultimate Oneness, and an energy of a trickster hiding from me, only showing a Cheshire cat smile in the darkness of the unknown.

In another (related) area of my life, I recently decided not to complete my Master’s Degree. I journaled about this for several days before letting myself admit that I really don’t WANT a Master’s Degree. I don’t want that mark of “superior knowledge” or “being worth more” to an employer. I don’t want to receive recognition from a system I don’t believe in. And beyond the degree itself, I don’t care about the research and writing papers that no one will ever read but one professor, and then perhaps a few more academics if I actually get published. I want to do meaningful, tangible work. I want to teach, but in innovative, experiential ways — not in a college classroom. The choice not to continue is freeing, a burden lifted. But I still haven’t told my parents…

So now I’m teaching part time at the alternative high school in town, Math and World History (Revolutions around the world!). This week is the last week I’ll be there until next fall. I’m also working diligently in our garden, planting seeds that will help feed the family this summer, and hopefully — with abundance of harvest and energy for canning — into the fall and winter. THIS is the work I want to be doing, pursuing alternatives to participating in the capitalist market, working hard to live in a way that makes sense. I still deeply believe it’s not sustainable unless done collectively — so we’re seeking community, both informal local networks and a more long-term group to share land and labor with.

That’s the news on the homefront! So much more, as well, perhaps for other posts…

I’ve left Twin Oaks. In most moments, it doesn’t feel particularly extraordinary. I’m here at my partner Free’s house, hanging out with him and his kids. This is familiar to me; this has been a part of my life for nearly a year… this house, these people. I’ve been slowly integrating myself into this place (and this place into myself), and it doesn’t feel significantly different to be here without Twin Oaks to return “home” to… yet.

I’m sure it will come, the time when I start to feel a longing for roots, and sad that those roots aren’t Twin Oaks anymore. I traveled a lot while living at Twin Oaks, sometimes for up to two weeks. Being away is familiar and comfortable, temporarily. I wonder what it will feel like in a month, when I’m on the road for an indefinite period of time.

My current itinerary is fairly vague after the first few stops. I’m here with Free until next Monday, when I travel up to Maryland with some Oaker friends for a 10 day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana). I haven’t ever done anything like this, and I’m excited, especially at this major point of transition. 10 days of observing myself, noticing what I’m feeling and thinking, and just holding it for what it is… not acting on it or trying to change it, just observing. At least, that’s what I imagine it’ll be like. Friends who have done it before tell me it’s pretty challenging, both physically (10 days of sitting) and mentally/emotionally.

After the retreat I’ll decompress in Baltimore with my dear brother, who teaches in the public schools there. He’s one of my closest friends in this world, and I love him. We haven’t seen much of each other, given how close we’ve been living for the past couple years. We’ve mostly seen each other when we’re home for Thanksgiving and other family events, or for quick visits when I’m passing through B’more on longer journeys. I’m excited to just hang out together for a weekend, without family holiday business to attend to.

Free will pick me up in Baltimore, and we’ll head up to New Jersey, where I’ll meet his parents for the first time. Free and I will say our passionate goodbyes, then I’ll head on to Chicago to raise some hell with the famed Serenaluchang, with whom I have a lasting friendship that started in college. From there, the vagueness begins. I hope to head up to Madison to see an ex-Oaker, an intern who lived at Twin Oaks for mere months and in those months carved out a permanent home in my heart. She left Twin Oaks a year and a half ago, and we’ve been sporadically in touch since then. We’ve been fantasizing about traveling together for a bit, perhaps taking a road trip out west to Eugene, OR to see another pair of ex-members, Teo and Juniper. Juniper arrived at Twin Oaks the day before I did, and we were immediate friends. After three years together on the commune, she left in September with her new partner Teo, and they’ve been traveling together around the country. Now they’ve settled temporarily, working on a farm in Oregon. I want to make it out there to connect with them, and share thoughts and feelings about the experience of leaving the sanctuary of Twin Oaks. I get that some with Free, though he left almost 7 years ago and doesn’t seem to get as attached to physical reality as I do… places and things and people are transitory and he takes changes and losses in stride. Juniper and I are more similar emotionally, and I want to explore and share this experience with her.

I’m realizing that perhaps my travel plans aren’t as interesting as my actual present experience of leaving. Am I avoiding writing about it? Logistics are just easier, because they’re concrete.

Right now, from the comfort of a house where I feel supported and loved, on a cozy Monday morning of tea and NPR, it’s hard to dive into the grief and fear of two days ago. Where to start? I spent my last day at Twin Oaks in a strange limbo. I had high expectations… I wanted intensity and meaningfulness, symbolic releases and powerful goodbyes. Instead, the whole day was fairly mellow. I had a morning date with Hawina, who has been a giant force in my life since early in my membership. She’s Paxus’ life partner and co-parent, and throughout my time at Twin Oaks we had several intense rounds of polyamory-induced emotional and logistical processing. We started to develop our own independent relationship through working together on the Mental Health Team over the last year, and our friendship now is deeper than I would have expected, given our history.

We chatted for awhile, then walked around the community and told each other stories of our experiences in different places. We ended up at the dining hall, and went inside for lunch. I got a plate of food and sat down with a group of friends in a small lounge area. Taking in the scene around me, friends laughing and entertaining the new baby, I felt an immediate emptiness, noting the joy and comfort and deep friendship I would be leaving in just a few hours. A friend across the room made eye contact with me, and the tears that had been building in my eyes suddenly released down my cheeks. She came over and wrapped her arms around me while I sobbed. I don’t mind crying in public; in fact, I like it. I want it to be natural to see people expressing sadness. I want to embrace sadness as an acceptable emotion, and so when I’m sad I don’t go hide out somewhere to cry unseen.

Other friends came over and sat with me, holding me and stroking my head. I calmed down and talked about how weird it felt to be there with them, and be on completely different trajectories. They were engaged in the continuing functioning of the community — I wasn’t. I was engaged in extracting myself from the fabric of their lives, while their lives continued on.

After lunch I spent a few hours getting ready for my goodbye party with another woman, Alexis, who was also leaving in a few days. We decided to have party together, sharing the experience of letting go and moving on. We decorated a large living room with all of our clothes and other items we were getting rid of, for other people to take. We hung clotheslines around the room to display our clothing, and laid out candles, earrings, condoms, and posters for our friends to choose from. Once the room was ready for the evening’s festivities, I left to say my final goodbyes to the community. I walked around with my journal and took a few moments in different places around the commune to write memories and reflections on my experiences in those places. I wrote in the dining hall about rehearsals for musicals, meals with friends, wild dance parties, and hackey sack circles outside on sunny days. In the dairy barn, I wrote about the smell of the cows, the playfulness of the calves, the intuitive skill of herding, and the silence of solitary winter mornings. In a high field near the graveyard, I remembered moments of retreat and reflection, rituals for full moons and other pagan holidays, and running in the rain for sanctuary when my grandmother died. In that same pasture, I engaged myself in a ritual of release. I had brought a piece of wood that I found in Maine before I moved to Twin Oaks, a bouquet of lavender from the herb garden that had been hanging in my room, and a rock I had found during a full moon mediation in that very field. I released the wood and set it softly on the earth, symbolizing that which I brought to Twin Oaks with me, and was leaving there: hesitance, passivity, deference to authority, fear of being wrong, naive independence. I then scattered the lavender beside it, symbolic of that which I acquired and experienced at Twin Oaks, and was also leaving behind: the cows, the land, daily responsibility to community members, full benefit of the collective resources of the community, safety, sanctuary. Finally, I held the rock against my chest, envisioning the confident, powerful, compassionate Self that I’ve found at Twin Oaks. Awareness and empathy, clear and honest communication, an active sense of responsibility… I want to carry this persona with me as I move on, and so I brought the rock, infused with that vision, with me. I looked at the wood and lavender on the ground, and felt the weight of the rock in my hand, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to symbolize that which I brought with me and am also carrying on with me. I looked through my bag and couldn’t find anything that fit the description, so I used my body, my eyes and lungs and nose and skin and heart. I thanked my body for carrying me to Twin Oaks, and thanked it for staying healthy enough to carry me away.

I came down from the pasture, and had enough time before dinner to hang out a bit with Paxus. It felt important to spend some time together on my last day, rooting ourselves in our continuing connection despite our many changes. We will certainly have a different relationship now that I’ve left Twin Oaks; what it looks like is up to us.

After dinner, I headed down to the courtyard to finish preparations for the party. Alexis and I had decided to have a “feed your friends” party, where no one fed themselves from their own hands. Instead, we had finger food (pineapple, grapes, chocolate, popcorn, and cake) that people could feed to each other. Once it got rolling, people walked around with platefulls of food and offered to feed each person they interacted with (I did it a lot, and loved it!). The whole party was great — folks grabbed the clothes we had on display and wore them as party outfits. We had a coffeehouse where people performed (juggling, singing, and spoken word tributes to Alexis and me), and we all danced until late in the evening. I returned to my room around 1am to finish packing. I went to sleep at 4:45 and woke up again at 6:15 to get ready to leave with the 8am trip into town.

I spent my last hour and a half at Twin Oaks running around doing final details, cleaning out my message slot, returning things I’d borrowed, and emptying my trashcan. I found Paxus one last time for our final goodbye, and then picked up my bags to load into the minivan. A friend had posted a note on the office door for me, saying simply “You will be missed” in big bold letters. I took it down as my tears started, and held it in my hand as I climbed into the van with the other folks going into town that day. We drove around to the dairy barn to pick up the milk that was to be delivered to cowshare customers (though raw, unpasturized milk can’t be sold, people can buy a share in a specific cow and receive milk from the cow that they partly own). On top of that day’s milk was another note for me, from a friend who was that morning’s milker and knew I was going in with the town trip.

Her note kept my tears flowing as we drove away from Twin Oaks, my home of three and a half years. Folks in the van asked me about my plans, and assured me that I could always come back if I wanted to. The driver offered jokingly to turn around. I cried, and felt comfortable with my tears. I chatted with a friend who I hadn’t spent much time with lately, a man named Thomas who joined the community just before I did. The 45 minute drive passed quickly. We dropped one woman off at an early dentist appointment, and then everyone else unloaded at the downtown library. Before we headed off in our own directions, Thomas hugged me tightly and offered to help me carry my bags into the library. “No thanks,” I said. “I want to know I can do it all by myself.” It wasn’t a feminist political statement — more, it was a symbolic act of independence and my capacity to take care of myself. As I write it now, I realize that’s only part of it. The truth is, we are all interdependent, whether we recognize it or not. The very nature of life on Earth is interdependence. Living in community just makes it more tangible. I don’t want to forget that truth simply because it’s more obscured in the mainstream culture. And yet, it felt important to me to feel my independence as I walked away from the van and my life at Twin Oaks.

Friday was hard for me, more than I expected. Sitting in the library, I felt aimless, no roots, no direction, just floating in limbo. I spent the day in deep grief and sadness about leaving my home and my friends of over 3 years, wondering what I’m heading towards and being fearful about not knowing. I cried with Free and he held me. I blamed him for picking me up late at the library and dragging me around town to run errands, and he held me. I cried and talked about my fears and he just gave me the space to be scared, giving me his love and reminding me about hope and faith.

Then on Saturday, I borrowed the car and ran some errands around town. I started a bank account. I stopped by the library to check my email. I sang in the car about how the earth is my home. I’m not rootless, I’m rooted in the earth and the global community.

As I walked down the street towards the library, this time unencumbered with bags, I felt my independence and my interdependence merging. I smiled at people I passed on the street, and they smiled back. This is my mandate for myself on this piece of the journey. Trust myself, and trust other people. Remember my independence, my capacity to create what I want, and my strength, and at the same time remember my connection with others, my responsibility to the people around me, and my commitment to honoring each person for who they are, even when I don’t understand them. We’re all in this together.