Taking a Stand, Taking a Step Commitment Ceremony
Betsy Stang and David Berry, Vigil Co-Founders
Over the years, the Prayer Vigil for the Earth has used a ceremony called Taking a Stand, Taking a Step Commitment Ceremony as one of its closing events. The beauty and inspiration of the prayers, songs and ceremonies of the Prayer Vigil often lift participants to a higher or deeper vision and give an opportunity to become unstuck from old habits of thought. Just before the ceremony, there is often a very high energy song and jam and dance of all the drums and all the people. But how can we channel the energy of this celebration and elation? Taking a Stand, Taking a Step is a ceremony designed to do that.
Neat stacks or baskets of small (8 - 10 inch) sticks are placed next to the fire. Up to 250 sticks might be needed. The sticks have been gathered from sanctified ground such as the grounds of the National Cathedral or other revered place. When they were gathered, those gathering them prayed, meditated or visualized that the sticks and ceremony would assist the participants in growth and awakening for the benefit of all life.
The participants are invited to stand in a large circle. They are reminded that all the forms around them were once not there. Stones were once layers of sediment or lava from within the Earth and long before that, stardust. All the animals, plants and people around us were not here a short time ago and will not be here long. All is flowing. The fire is a perfect example of this ever changing flow of life, since the wood in the fire was recently part of trees that previously were minerals, water and sunlight. The wood is now giving up its form and identity as wood and becoming smoke and ashes and heat and light - again just as we will someday give up our form and identity.
How can we take a stand or take a step on ground that is falling away beneath our feet and becoming star dust again someday? Many peoples have a tradition of placing a stake or flag in the ground as a symbolic act. The first men to reach the moon planted flags of their nation and of the whole community of nations. To take a spiritual stand we don't assume the stick will be there forever, we place it in the fire to symbolize that we are making a commitment to align ourselves with a deeper flow.
The participants are invited to discover inside what the next step is for them. Is it to be kinder? To begin a new work? To stay sober? To contribute more to their children? To work for peace or the environment? To stick with a spiritual practice? To pay more attention to what is going on around them? There will be as many different steps as people in the circle.
Once they have their commitment in mind, they are invited to step up in two or four lines and take a stick and with a very short silent prayer place it in the fire. (no hootchie kootchie dance or presentation to all the directions - there is a line behind them). Before they step up, everyone is asked to raise their hands if they are willing to include the success of everyone else's commitment in their prayers. Then they look around and see that everyone will be praying for them to be able to keep their commitment. Then they are reminded that they will fall down in the future just as we all have in the past.
The commitment is not to never fall down, but to pick ourselves up when we do fall as start again - as many times as we stumble or fail.
Then they step forward in the lines and pick up a stick (tell them whichever one they pick up is the right one) and place it in the fire.
When all have committed and the final remarks are made the Prayer Vigil closes with a handshake circle or other closing ceremony (that is not high energy).