Non-Religious Ceremonies for Life Events

non-religious ceremoniesI’ve been toying with an idea for a couple of years now, and on Friday I was inspired to put that idea into motion, to see where it will take me. I’ve been thinking a lot about non-religious ceremonies.

My life’s journey has taken me through a broad spectrum of human experience, and I’ve often wondered how I can use the talents and the wisdom I am cultivating to give back in some way.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of two very special people. Penny and La-nai are very obviously in love, and very obviously committed to each other. They chose to make their bond official before moving away to Vietnam, and their small and very personal wedding was one of the best I’ve ever attended. It seemed like such an authentic reflection of these two fierce women.

How proud I am to live in a country where any couple can publicly, legally and officially dedicate their lives to one another! The officiant at Penny and La-nai’s wedding was soft spoken and adorable, but his words, more than anything else, really spoke to me. The service was about equality and individuality. He was a Humanist, and I’ve long since wondered about this non-secular movement. After a little digging, it turns out that my spiritual beliefs have a home.

Secular Humanism can be defined as follows (thanks Wiki):

The philosophy or life stance of secular humanism (alternatively known by some adherents as Humanism, specifically with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism) embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

The Universalist Unitarian Church is linked to the Humanist movement, and my favourite definition of this organization thus far is “a post-Christian liberal religion categorized by a free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. Basically, anything goes so long as you follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have done to you) and anyone from any religious or non-religious background is welcome through their doors.

I dragged Nekky and the kids along to a Sunday service at the Unitarian Congregation of Niagara to see what they were all about. The place was warm and intimate, and there were about 40 members there to celebrate their annual Flower Communion, where each member of the congregation was invited to select a flower donated by the other members. I found the service warm and engaging, uplifting and inspiring. Nothing had overtly religious overtones – the common theme was sharing the human experience. The girls found it really interesting and Hannah in particular was delighted that several members of the congregation knew the life and work of the Aga Khan. My highlight was when the service leader noted that poet Mary Oliver was like the voice of Unitarianism. I’ve loved her work since learning of her from a friend. I won’t likely frequent that particular congregation because there was possibly only one other member under the age of 50, and I’d like to join a community that is a little more reflective of my personal experience. I’m hoping to find a better fit in Hamilton, where the next closest congregation exists.

I’m delving deeply into these movements and organizations because I think I’d like to get ordained and perform life passages, rituals, and ceremonies for people to commemorate, honour and celebrate their life’s great transitions. I feel like I’d be really great at this, and it would be such an honour to serve that way. I already have a billion ideas of how to incorporate the world’s great traditions and customs into personal ceremonies.

I’ve really missed the community and communion of gathering together in a spiritual context. I have varied and mixed ideas about spirit and the universe and I’m kind of thrilled to find what seems like a place where I can explore those ideas, and celebrate my human experience in an open and inclusive atmosphere, together with my family if they are so inclined. I love the Ismaili Muslim faith that we are raising the kids with, but I think it’s a tragedy that non-Ismaili family members can’t join in prayer. Conversion has never really been an option for me, because I wouldn’t feel right converting to a faith unless I could really absorb all of ┬áthe key tenants therein. This also includes returning to my previous Christian roots. I also made a personal commitment to stay away from organized religion, unless they have specifically mandated inclusiveness and acceptance of all congregation members regardless of race, gender orientation or sexual preference. I think these inclusions cannot be subtle in this day and age. Openness and acceptance in religious institutions must be shouted from the rafters.

Everyone deserves to experience spirituality within a community context. Each of us deserves ritual, rite of passage, and ceremony if that is what our soul is craving. I believe the human spirit that unites us all is as valid as the god of my childhood. I believe they are one and the same.