Rekindled by Ritual

How to hold the heartbreak and the outrage? Hundreds of babies and toddlers, schoolchildren and teenagers wrenched from the embrace of their parents, many now sobbing inconsolably in immigrant detention centers—some unbelievably lost in the system. My friend Rosalinda, who used to earn just pennies an hour working in a U.S. factory on the Mexican border, who had a nephew who was murdered there, felt a need to tell me her own family’s story of escape from desperate poverty and rampant violence. She related a harrowing saga of vulnerable hiding places, grueling river and desert crossings, capture and release by Border Patrol agents, and a second attempt—all endured so that her children might have safety, enough food, and the chance to grow up. It is unimaginable to think that they might have been stolen from her here.Bonfire

So we make phone calls, write letters, sign petitions, and take our candles to the park to pray and protest. We do it over and over because this is how we know to be human, to stay connected, to make sure that no victim is forgotten. Last month in the park, tears slipped down my cheeks as young American Jewish women slowly read out the names of the 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters who were massacred on May 14 in Gaza by Israeli troops, and then led us in a Hebrew Kaddish of mourning for them. In that extraordinary moment, I realized that there is deep within me a hunger for ritual, for gathering with others to remind ourselves of who we are, to keep ourselves grounded in hope.

Last night I went to a mountaintop in drizzling rain for a summer solstice celebration. Our eclectic little group gathered around a large fire in an open-sided sacred council house to bid goodbye to the longest day of the year, anointed by the healing notes of flutes and drums. When the rain let up, we walked outside and watched from a large clearing as the sun slowly sank toward the horizon. Mountain peaks in the distance poked through a blanket of white clouds—always a breathtaking view to me. In the sky, cobalt clouds were etched in radiant gold. Birds erupted in chorus, as if trying to get in their last notes before darkness descended—an offering of gratitude at day’s end. When the sun dropped out of sight and the birdsong ceased, tree frogs picked up the melody, humming all around us, as fireflies blinked in the grass and trees.

We watched for a long time, transfixed by awe, and then returned to the fire. The drummer stepped toward it with a large, round, flat drum, holding it close to the flame and rubbing its surface—warming and drying the hide that had become damp and stretched from the rain. I loved the metaphor. That drum reminded me that we need to keep returning to the fire, warming and bathing our spirits in its light, opening ourselves to be vessels of the Spirit that ring true and vibrate with compassion for this hurting world.

Before we left for home, we were invited to face the fire and add our own sounds to the harmonies of drums, flutes, and frogs. From around the room emerged sighs, hums, moans, groans, murmurs, chants—whispers at first. They soon swelled into cries, keening, celebration and lamentation, release. In that room I heard the wails of immigrant children and their mothers and fathers, and I felt the earth open to receive them. One of the clouds crept down from the sky and enveloped us. We walked off the mountaintop in a light fog, under a half moon encircled by a dark rainbow, rekindled.


9 thoughts on “Rekindled by Ritual

  1. Joyce, I am ready for bed, and I am so grateful that I read this just before going…Every night I fall asleep praying for those children and for their parents. Once more you have touched me, and I have grown…..


  2. Beautifully said, Joyce! I too miss ritual in my life…that which joins us together and takes me to a deeper place. Thanks for sharing this!


    • Thank you, Darilyn. I remember our conversation about ritual and look forward to creating more together. I’m grateful for the ways that you bring it to the world through dance and prayer.


  3. Thank you, Joyce, for this beautiful reflection. I have shared it with FB friends. Last week, my partner April and our friend DeShaun invited a circle of friends to gather in our living room for a life-giving evening that was grounded in ritual. As you so poignantly describe, we need these gatherings to “hold the heartbreak and the outrage.”


  4. In case I forget to tell you this….this did get lost in correspondence I received while in Greece. I’ve just now read it, sitting on our upper ‘perch’ deck after a hard storm, with sun trying to peek through clouds and thunder still rumbling…and I am very moved by your words. Just want you to know! ❤️

    Sent from my iPhone



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