Linda Neale's wonderfully useful book, The Power of Ceremony, is a timely and beautifully expressed look at how we can restore, in ourselves and our community, the sense of the sacred and the connectivity that we have lost in the fragmentation of modern life. With a Native American focus, Neale brings her own skills and talents to a topic of great interest.
The recent court case revolving around deaths in a sweat lodge ceremony behooves those of us who are not familiar with the standards and creative methods behind spiritual ceremony to educate ourselves so that we can regain what we have lost in our cultural busyness, without being disrespectful or harmful in our quest for spiritual meaning. Neale's book will help us reach that place.
The three sections of the book ("The Call," "The Seven Principles," and "The Practice") give us the tools we need to be informed, to plan and to execute the healing nature of ceremony and to create a ceremonial life that is rich with flavor and meaning. Neale takes her time in defining, explaining, and exploring the meanings of ceremony; her perspective on the difference between ceremony and ritual, the importance of intention and transitions; and the overall view that ceremony is within the reach of us all with practice and passion.
This is not a book to race through, garnering ideas and dispensing them without proper preparation or the correct mind-set. It is a book both highly readable and meant to be used as a reference guide. As you learn to create ceremonies and involve others, and along the way to honor your own personal space and blessedness, you will reach greater understanding. The world did not reach chaos and frenzy all at once, and it will take time, patience and study to center ourselves once again. This book is interactive, not merely a passive reading experience. A time line will help you chart your path to readiness for spiritual awakening and ceremony. As you study, Neale will ask you to think on things, and write your answers.
Neale uses the term "initiation hunger" to try to explain the need of many of us, particularly the young and vulnerable, to be involved and participate in ceremony. Instead of finding that sense of peace and involvement, drugs, violence and even terrorism have become more prevalent. As we fight our feelings of disconnectedness and disenfranchisement we have a choice—to move forward via ceremony, or to stay stagnant and unfulfilled. Neale is careful to say that whatever the belief system that we come from in our lives, whatever our higher power is, we can be enriched AND enrich the lives of others by studying and implementing ceremonial patterns as part of our daily lives.
The Seven Principles Neale offers to give us grounding and the power to use ceremony for the common good are, simply stated: Listening, Intention, Preparation, Structure, Symbols, Prayer and the Unexpected. I really enjoyed reading about the concept of the Unexpected; what Neale calls "the spontaneous, the joyful and/or chaotic element." If we open up to the Unexpected, as well as planning the steps of honest, heartfelt creativity, we too can learn to participate in ceremonies that will bring consequence and depth to our lives.
This would be a great reading choice for an open-minded church group, book club or organization. It will lead you through the steps to the possibilities of creating and living with genuine meaning, appreciation and togetherness with our fellow inhabitants on our troubled planet. Neale says herself that we are human, we make mistakes, but by making an earnest effort to understand and value the way of ceremony, we can grow and be at peace. A bibliography gives the interested reader further places to research and read about ceremony and restoring the sacred in our communities.
Neale states, "The call to live a ceremonial life may sneak up on you, or it may be clear...If you Listen, you will hear ancestral voices whispering in the wind and over the waters. They are inviting you to participate in a great ceremonial renewal, spiraling toward your center and the true purpose of our existence. Say 'YES.'"
Read an excerpt from this book.
Linda Neale, a fourth-generation Oregonian of English/Norwegian/Polish descent, was raised with the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountains, and the High Desert in her back yard. As a professional marriage and family therapist, Linda integrates ceremony into her therapeutic work with couples, families, and communities, and has dedicated her life to helping people develop ceremonies to heal feelings of separation in modern society. Visit her website.
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