The royal wedding is finally old news. All the extravagance of the ceremony and the sermon by the black bishop from the United States – these have, at long last, disappeared from the news feed. The clothes and the children and the honeymoon and the house are still showing up from time to time, but they too will slowly give way to other more current events that will catch our attention.
It was two weeks post-Royal Wedding when a Buddhist friend of mine who had watched the entire ceremony was eager to talk about it. The effect it had had on her surprised me.
In our conversation, Ann, let’s call her, worked to find the right words to describe what it was about the event that had so moved her. She first acknowledged her aversion to the cost of this, and many, weddings. From there, she bemoaned how many weddings these days are “destination weddings.”
That’s when it dawned on her that it was the tradition, the elegance and the propriety of the royal celebration that she found so compelling. She recognized that it wasn’t the next cool thing. As we talked more about this “Solemnization of Matrimony,” (the official title for a wedding in the Church of England) she pondered why that might be.
I think Ann hit on something that may be true for many of us in our country. Even for younger folks who might not have lived in a time of greater decorum, a time when there was an expectation that things could and should be done properly – even for them there is something grounding in ritual. Behind the staid language, the prescribed choreography and the formal music, there is a depth of meaning that cannot be missed no matter how many fancy hats and movie stars are gathered around.
While I was pondering how we are drawn to rite and ritual, I realized there are few places we encounter it in our country anymore. Maybe there are still cotillions in the Deep South or in New York high society. But for us ordinary folks, the military, organizations like the Masons or the Scouts, and some religious denominations are the only examples that jump to mind. It’s interesting how things in a religious context that are “done properly and in good order” are often considered as repetitive, boring, and out of touch. In one of these other settings, it’s a whole different thing.
Participating in ceremony brings us into a structure that makes clear who we are and the potential into which we can grow. I wonder if we haven’t lost something when so few of our young people experience a rite of passage, no matter what the context.
I remember walking across “the rainbow bridge” to join the older girls when I was moving from one level of Camp Fire Girls to the next. I remember feeling very proud that I would become one of them. That ceremony gave me a future to live in to. But that was nothing compared with Confirmation in the Church. That was a rite, not into another group of kids, but into an adult world. And it was more than something that I chose like being a Camp Fire Girl. It was publicly acknowledging and accepting that my adult life would be tied up with the life of God in this world.
Rituals and rites have a power to effect what they represent. They are threshold moments that once crossed cannot be reversed. And the formality and the decorum – yes, the seriousness of the occasion, bespeak the transformative power inherit in them.
As a religious person, I obviously think it is a good thing to link our lives to a community that strives to live in accordance with the story of a God who is Love. Ritualizing the entrance into that community, for many, if not most young people, will help them step confidently into their new, more mature role. That said, I applaud and encourage any and all ways our youths are offered structure as they transition out of their youth.
We all know kids will push to find where the boundaries are. Knowing they can belong to the adult world where there will be a reliable container within which they can express their individuality and creativity will, in the end, serve not only our youths, but also our society.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.