At each year’s end for the past decade or so, I have led a service at my church called Out of the Darkness. We gather together in the warmth of the sanctuary for a calling back of the sun. After a bit of preparation and welcome, we calm into a moment of silence in the darkened room.
Part of the preparation includes writing down the things we wish to leave behind from the past year — regrets, sorrows, heaviness, anything we want to let go into the distance. The bowl (pictured below, an arted gourd from my garden) is passed around by one of our youth for collection of the slips of paper everyone has written upon. Other youth members deliver noisemakers to every congregant who wants one.
Once we’re in the dark (after our moment of silence), our drum leader starts with a slow, heartbeat-like drumming. The pre-selected youth simultaneously begin to light our immense table of candles. The rest of the congregation slowly joins the drumming as they strengthen their resolve to leave their regrets in the past as I burn each piece of paper. With the candlelight brightening the room, the drumming and music-making grows in volume.
Once the burning of papers is complete, I use sage to help the regrets and sorrows exit the room. Each part of this ritual is practiced with great intention and this piece is no different. With every wave of the sage, I urge the heaviness to leave the room and our lives. I then burn sweetgrass (from my garden) while welcoming in positive energies and light to settle in among us all.
As I finish up with my smudging, the congregants usually slow their drumming and noise-making to a trickle and then stop. I say usually because this is a communal performance and it’s never predictable or consistent. Sometimes it sounds more like purely raucous chaos, but mostly it sounds heartfelt and sincere. On occasion, it is good music. It is always cathartic and an awesome communal shift toward the lightness of hope!
The one amusement that I usually remind the group about is that each year, even though we always use the same paper and writing instruments, some of the regrets burn so quickly that I fight not to set myself afire while others I have to relight them. The only variant (shared with a raised eyebrow) is the intention behind what was written.
Once in awhile, someone brings their papers with them — and even those burn differently. I told a member one year that I’d noticed one of hers was particularly stubborn and had to be relit three different times. She said she knew exactly which one it was as she had used it for the past two years. We agreed to believe this would be her “three times lucky” year.
After our burning, we sit in the candle-lit darkness and share quotes and hopeful prose for the coming year. Then we finish the service by singing “Here Comes the Sun” with the Beatles. After all is said and done, we break for warm treats and visiting. I take the ashes out to the land around the church and put them in a few specially selected areas.
This year is going to be a little different in that I’m adding another level of intention. A good friend asked if I was making any manifestation bowls. I told her that I hadn’t been working in clay this year but would think about it. Once my mind wandered around to our annual service — and feeling the need to add a mood elevator for some of the hopelessness and depression flowing around — I found the perfect motivation to make some bowls (photo above).
I’m calling this new part Manifesting Our Own Destiny (MOOD). I think it will further cement the hopefulness. We will be finishing up by writing down what we want to manifest in the coming year— positive things only. I will collect these in the manifestation bowls, do a small ritual later at home by myself, then will add both some of the ashes and all of the manifestation papers to my compost. I love the image of the ashes of regrets and my own compostables becoming one with those hopes so they can spring to life with my garden come spring.
While this is a powerful service when celebrated in numbers, rituals can have similarly strong outcomes when performed alone or in small groups. I have been practicing a ritual of holding the Water Protectors in my Circle for the past month or so. On Thanksgiving day, I sent out a specially concerted wave of energy during a half-hour long ceremony—sending them support, loving intention, and protection.
Whether working up a group ritual or setting aside time for thoughtful intention, focusing energy for good can be mood-shifting, hope-filled, and life-altering as it helps us connect more deeply with our choices, decisions and intentional living.
Photos by Khymba Pelham-Bush and Blythe Pelham
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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