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Ceremonies for Life's Messy Middle

Uncategorized Mar 06, 2023

“The only constant in life is change.” At least that’s what Heraclitus tells us. We may think that our modern world is more fast-paced when it comes to change, but these words of Heraclitus come to us from around the year 450 BCE. Change is an unavoidable part of the human condition. Perhaps the only thing that doesn’t change is that change is constant.

I’ve come to understand life as a series of changes or transitions. 
Some of them welcome. Some of them not. 
Some of the changes we experience are biological in nature.  
We grow. We mature. We age. We die. 

Other changes, both welcome and unwelcome, result from outside influences or choices we have made along the way. I’ve come to appreciate that even the longed-for changes require a period of adjustment. 

Some of the life transitions we may experience include:
  • Death of a loved one
  • Diagnosis of an illness
  • Loss or change of job
  • Birth or adoption of a baby
  • Purchase or sale of a home
  • Graduation
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Move to a new town
  • The list could go on and on….

Some might call these rites of passage. 



The knowledge that these transitions are a regular part of life doesn’t make them any easier but may help us meet change as a normal part of life with the assurance we are not alone. 

As a society, though, we often don’t give these changes their due.

When we experience one – or more – of these major life transitions we are expected to just keep going with little time for grief, rest, recalibration, or adjustment. Our culture tells us to move on, get over it, keep busy, look forward.

One way to pause, reflect, and acknowledge these life transitions is through ceremony and ritual. 

  • Ceremony can help give shape to the transition times in our lives
  • Ceremony is an acknowledgement that, “I’m going through a difficult time and am ready for what comes next”
  • Ceremony adds meaning and restores agency and belonging
  • Ceremony affirms the human need to be accepted by and in community with others
  • Ceremony and ritual provide space to feel our emotions in an overly technical world

Life transitions, as painful and disruptive as they can be, may also be opportunities for growth and new possibilities. When we experience a life transition, and take the time to acknowledge it, we have the chance to revisit our life story. This in-between space of leaving behind one story before fully knowing how our new story is going to unfold can lead to self-reflection and re-evaluation. 

In his book, Life is in The Transitions, Bruce Feiler describes three stages of transition. As celebrants, we could consider how to acknowledge each of these stages of transition through ceremony and ritual:

Long Good-Bye – mourn the past

Messy Middle – shed habits and create new ones

New Beginnings – unveil new self 

When we think about ceremony to mark such life transitions, it’s important that the ceremony acknowledge all aspects of the transition – the pain, the hope, and the new life story that is emerging. 

We don’t incorporate new wisdom into our life stories by white-knuckling it or by putting our heads down and pushing through. As I say to the people I work with, “Don’t rush through this change. Stay here a while. Find out what it has to teach you.” Change changes us no matter how much we resist it, so we may as well acknowledge it and let it move through us so we can learn from it. In the words of Joan M. Olsen’s poem from “Go Boldly:”

And until the end of your days,
may your life be filled
with possibilities and courage.

Written by Kristabeth Atwood, M. Div., Celebrant Academy instructor for our upcoming four-week Life Transition Ceremonies course-- a deep dive into rituals that mark common, but often overlooked, and less common transitions in our lives.

Life Transition Ceremonies course, NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS! Join us Thursdays, April 6, 13, 20, 27, 2023 @ 6:00-7:30pm (ET), taught LIVE online each week!

Students will learn to:

  • Retain clients long after their wedding day
  • Create and perform original rites of passage rituals 
  • Deepen your interview process 
  • Market your training to work with your ideal clients 
  • Unleash your creativity beyond weddings and funerals 
Submit your application for April's course now!
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