“Permission for Maximum Joy” a worship service crafted by both the Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, senior co-minister and Intern Sabrina Trupia. Joy is a great thing and should be present in everything that we do. We should not be afraid to laugh, dance, sing, clap and get into it when we feel moved during a ritual. Raise energy!
Sammler-Michael reflected on churches that had strict policies on what you could and couldn’t do during their services. One wouldn’t allow men to wear hats; another said you couldn’t clap. Then there was one that claimed God only visited in the silence. While the first may show respect in one way, the other two also had me as baffled. He said they claimed their reasoning for not clapping is that it would chase away the spirit. He questioned them but the ministers did not find what he asked funny.
Somehow all this reminds me of Ren McCormack in the movie “Footloose.” He approached the town council on the dancing ban, quoting verses from Psalm 149, Samuel and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. And of course with dancing there is music in which Rock’n’Roll was also banned in that movie. After quoting from the Bible the character ends with saying, “It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been.”
My definition of good rituals — to raise energy and send it out to someone or to Mother Earth. Looking at any good ritual that I have attended, those rituals involved singing, clapping, drumming and even dancing. Whatever it took to raise the energy and send it out there. Think back to rituals that you have attended. At least for me the ones that didn’t raise energy, well they just fizzled. There was no working; there was no sense of accomplishment.
Our ancestors — whether they are African, Native American, Celtic or another race — had drumming, sound, music and dancing in rituals. It was the base of the beat that kept going with the drumming. It is what is welcome and needed. People look for it, it is joyous and welcomed.
The beginning of all my rituals opens with the hymn “Gather Here.” The tune begins to raise energy, it creates a focus and gets us in the coordinated mind set for ritual.
I will never forget the song during the co-ministers’ installation ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, New Jersey. They were rocking out to “Love, Reign o’er Me” by the Who. Then there was a Celebration of Life service for a member also with Who songs. Keyword “celebration” — I could not think of a better way to honor this person’s life but with music.
We often sing the hymn, “When the Spirit Says Do,” at UU Montclair on Sunday mornings.
According to the song spirit tells us to sing, to dance, to clap, etc. There is nothing wrong with dancing and singing — even off key. If I attend a ritual that isn’t doing at least one of those things I often question the leader’s experience.
Let’s not forget about laughter. Sometimes things happen, a ritual outline may catch on fire. Okay, a ritual outline did catch on fire. Mine did, at Samhain once. This does not mean the end of the world, chuckle about it and continue. The deities are laughing too, I can bet.
At times we tend to get too worked up on what needs to be done. I went to a ritual once when the high priestess had everything typed up. She watched everything that was said and wanted it read out loud word for word. If something was off she nearly blew a gasket, which made everyone worried and afraid to mess up. That much tension and the result we wanted did not unfold. People were too concerned with possibly making mistakes. I do not remember any of her rituals raising any energy. We get too caught up on familiarity that we often forget to let go and be in the moment
Many rituals are meant to be fun and upbeat. Even Samhain, although a solemn rite, can have a lighter tone to it at times. Our ancestors enjoyed our company when they were alive. They partook in dancing and singing and, I am sure, clapping. This, in my opinion, is stimulating and welcoming.
My elder, the Rev. Foxxy Pullen once was asked to replace the caller for south/fire, at Samhain. No matter how hard she tried, she could not get the fire to light. Instead of frustration there was laughter. It did not stop a number of Native American spirits from joining the ritual.
One reason why we end rituals with “cakes and ale.” is not just customary but after raising energy like that you need to ground yourself. Additionally, it helps the group socialize with those who just worked together.
Music is what gets me “thru the night.” It pulls me out of my bad moods. And I believe heavily in Meat Loaf’s song, “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through.” “Let the drummer tell your heart what to do ….There is always something magic….Keep on believing…The beat is yours forever, the beat is always true….”
Oh and by the way, if a child “acts up” during a ritual and gets “loud” that is okay. Our ancestors did not have babysitters, children were most likely included in one way or another. I could imagine that the ritual was never quiet and it may have been a bit messy. This was okay then and it could be now.
However, no one wants bad spirits in ritual. There are ways to cleanse spaces to keep bad spirits away. Sage or salt for example could help with this. However, clapping happily well no. Maybe a certain type of clapping could rid a space of its bad spirits. But clapping in general won’t send spirits away.
So there is no law against loud music, at least not at my congregation. There is no reason not to get loud during ritual either. Dance around the Maypole. See for yourself.