Recently, I was present at the farewell service for my church pastor, who is retiring from the ministry. It was a beautiful service, and at the heart was a ten-minute "Liturgy of Farewell," that included two back and forth conversations between the pastor and church congregation: "Recognition of the End" and "Vows of Release." They included:
- Expressions of gratitude, love, kindness and support
- Requests for forgiveness
- Acknowledgments of trust, time together, and influence
- Offers of release and encouragement
These affirmations and avowals were spoken by both minister and congregation. Speaking them was solemn and freeing.
The Importance of Ritual
There's a wonderful song from the 1970's musical The Last Sweet Days of Isaac called, "My Most Important Moments Go By." I've always loved this song--My most important moments go by, and I don't even know it 'til they're gone--because it reminds me to notice all of life's precious moments. I try to be there for them. And ritual helps me do that.
When we let moments go by without paying attention, we lose something--something that won't come again. And, sometimes it makes it harder to go on to the next moment. Something is holding us back, and we're not even sure what it is.
Consequently, I've always been big on closure and sometimes create my own rituals. I think it's partly who I am, and it's also a trait that's been reinforced through Aikido practice, where we bow in, bow out, and just bow. Period. It's about closure and honoring where we've been and where we're going.
So now when I leave a workshop space, I turn and make a small standing bow, just like when I leave the dojo. At the end of a visit with my mom (she lives in Illinois and I see her every few months), I make sure I'm present as we hug and say our goodbyes. Whenever I'm struck by the importance of a moment, like making a decision to leave a life path I've traveled for a while or start a new venture, I acknowledge the moment in some way that helps me move on.
William Bridges has written extensively about transition as an internal process we go through when change occurs. Change is something that happens to us, he says. Transition--when recognized and intentionally managed--helps us let go and pursue new beginnings.
I realized once again at our pastor's farewell service how important it is to mark things, to know that this is the end of something and that we'll be gradually transitioning to something new. We may not know exactly what that new location, situation, or life direction looks like yet but with time we will.
What's important is to notice the key (and the ki) moments--to express gratitude for what you've learned, received, and shared, to offer and receive forgiveness, to acknowledge, accept and release. This can be done publicly, as we did with the farewell service, or privately in quiet moments of rest and reflection.
According to Bridges, "Before people can begin something new, they have to end what used to be and unlearn the old way." Closure through ritual helps us acknowledge this moment and move on to the next.
What are the relevant rituals in your life? How do they help you with transitions?