Monday, November 25, 2013

Dorothy McRae-McMahon provides a blueprint for meaningful rituals in our lives

 Co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club, Walter Mason, offers a warm view of Rituals.

Recently I was called upon to do a house blessing for some dear friends. I accepted because they are just about the kindest and sweetest men on earth, but I was instantly plunged into worry and performance anxiety - how on earth would I create a meaningful house blessing ceremony for a mixed Buddhist-Catholic couple? I eventually let myself be led by my own instincts (I am, after all, a natural-born blesser), the requests of the couple and my own knowledge of Buddhist blessing rituals. My final, and most invaluable, aid was Dorothy McRae-McMahon's exquisite book of Rituals for Life, Love & Loss.

The Rev. McRae-McMahon has long been a hero of mine, and I have seen her speak many times. Each time she has given witness to a life filled with bravery, faith and a great love for human culture in all of its wonderful diversity. Long the minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, Australia's most liberal congregation (she has been retired now for many years), McRae-McMahon rose to national prominence when she came out as a Lesbian in the late 1990s. This was a move of monumental courage and it had an immense symbolic impact on the lives of gay and lesbian people across Australia.

Dorothy McRae-McMahon - photo Dallas Kilponen for SMH
Her gentleness, empathy and interest in inclusive spirituality are the instincts that inform this collection of blessing words and ceremonies for all the stages of life. As well as the fantastic ideas for a house blessing, which I can wholeheartedly endorse, she provides many other solutions for marking the importance and sacredness of such occasions as marriage, the birth of a child and milestone birthdays. In an age in which we give short shrift to ceremony and ritual, this book reminds us just how important, and age old, is the impulse to acknowledge certain moments in life as especially important and worthy of some kind of commemoration.

Poetic and practical, Rituals for Life, Love & Loss is filled with prayers, meditations and ways to celebrate together that move a situation from the humdrum into the realm of sacred observance. Using some of Dorothy McRae-McMahon's ideas you can bring a great deal of love and joy into moments where we can sometimes feel uncomfortable, such as when we feel the need to forgive ourselves, or when we recognise the end of a marriage.

Her ceremony for sending a loved one into care, for example, is a reminder of just how quick we are to condemn these highly emotionally-charged experiences to the realms of the quotidian, or to be endured with grim-faced necessity. Instead, McRae-McMahon recommends gathering loved ones and friends together in a group to light candles and to share memories of the life journey of the person about to to move somewhere that can be highly stigmatised and feared. All the parties involved are recommended to share an affirmation that says: "This is not an end to our caring and compassion and commitment."

Using this book can change lives, and I have witnessed the Rev. McRae-McMahon's rituals used in all kinds of potentially difficult situations to great effect. It speaks to the human need to honour our times of importance and transition, both positive and joyful and more challenging. It is an inspiration, a textbook and a truly useful guide to creating meaningful moments of reflection and honouring. I urge you to put it to use in your own life.
You can purchase Rituals using this direct link to QBD (free postage) - our local affiliate bookstore.  All your direct purchases will support our Book Club. We also welcome your comments below!

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