The Great Journey
A Co-Creative Ritual of Gratitude
and Commitment

by Connie Barlow

This ritual was created in December 2000 for a gathering of The Great Story Group at Marydell Faith and Life Center in Nyack, New York. There were thirteen participants. The script has been updated to include some of the excellent changes invented by the group in process.

GROUP: for a small group, in circle format

ADVANCE PREPARATION: Print out each of the 15 parts as a separate page, to hand out individually to participants (or to teams). Mark at the top the name of the component that immediately precedes, so that participants can simply be told to begin when the foregoing is finished. This means no "leader" will be needed during the play, even though nobody except the leader knows the full script. Do be alert for someone possibly getting out of sequence, however. The leader should reserve the last act of the script for her/himself to close out the ritual. Allow ten or fifteen minutes for each participant or team to decide how to modify their component, possibly developing a chant or group ritual to go with it, as well as manipulation of ritual or gathered objects, and recruiting a helper or two from the group if needed. (Some will want to ask you for clarification or advice during this time.) Perhaps teach the group in advance how to conduct a Call and Response without the responders needing to read anything. Ask them all to keep each section in the present tense, as if that moment of grace is happening right then in their telling of it.

RITUAL OBJECTS: standing candles for each participant; center candle, drum or chimes or bell, glitter, halo for central candle, container of water and empty bowl, salt, a small bowl of powdered clay, incense or herbs for smudging, tree branch, chocolates and pieces of fruit to eat, cut carrots to eat, a rock and obsidian or flint points, roasted almonds or french fries to eat, grains of wheat or corn and cubes of bread or popcorn to eat, plate to blacken over flame and feather to singe. These ritual objects will be used to construct an altar on a center cloth on the floor, as each component of the ritual unfolds.

The 15 Part Script

1. THE GREAT RADIANCE - strike chimes or drum, while lighting candle in center (recruit a helper).

Strike chime and light large candle, then: "In the beginning is the Great Radiance. In a moment of grace, all of Space, all of Time, and all Energy flares forth from the primordial Mystery. From this Great Radiance, the Universe will begin its Great Journey. What creativity will unfold? What wonders will emerge in the billions of years before us?"

Call: "In our hearts, we call forth gratitude for the Great Radiance."

Response: "We are grateful for the Great Radiance. We are awed by the Mystery from which the Universe flares forth."

"Let us each light a candle now, feeling the creativity of the Universe surging within, as we move together in our co-creative ritual."

2. THE BIRTH OF GALAXIES AND STARS - glitter to anoint foreheads or hands

"As the Energy of the Great Radiance expands and cools, matter emerges and congeals into clouds of hydrogen. The clouds of hydrogen coalesce into the communion of galaxies — billions of galaxies. At a moment of grace [ring bell?], the first stars ignite within these galaxies, fueled by the marriage of matter and gravity. These stellar fires begin by fusing the abundant hydrogen into helium. The biggest stars continue the process of fusion, forging all the chemical elements within their bellies, then offering their gifts in blinding bursts of supernovas. All the calcium in our bones, all the iron in our blood, all the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen in our DNA: all these and more are forged in the bellies of giant stars."

[Take your seat in the circle and anoint forehead of your neighbor with stardust (glitter), saying something like:] "You are a child of the stars, made of stardust. May you sparkle with the creativity of a billion stars." [The action and blessing is then passed one by one around the circle; the blessing will spontaneously change during the transit.]

3. THE LIGHTING OF THE SUN - do something to the center candle to transform it into the sun. Maybe put around it a halo of star-shaped aluminum foil to reflect the light, or move the candle into the inside of a crystal bowl.

"Among the billions of galaxies can be found a lovely spiral galaxy: the Milky Way. Within the Milky Way Galaxy, a second generation of stars is flaring forth. These stars are flaring forth from the primordial hydrogen that has become a rich brew of stardust forged in the bellies of the first stars. With atoms of silicon and calcium and iron in existence, planets are now possible for the very first time! [ring bell?] One star to form at this moment of grace is our sun: Sol. Sol is too small to ever become a supernova. Instead, Sol will provide its nine planetary pups with a secure and steady banquet of starlight, day in and day out, for billions and billions of years. Oh what creativity might arise in this new star system!"

Call: In our hearts we call forth gratitude for the star named Sol."

Response: "We are grateful for the star named Sol, whose generosity lights up the sky."

4. THE FIRST RAIN - pour a small pitcher of water slowly and noisily from on high into a glass bowl. Maybe recruit a helper to do this, while you recite or generate from memory. Note: Do not anoint participants with water, as that happens in the component following yours.

"On Earth, third stone from Sol, a moment of grace occurs as the planet cools: water condenses from the steamy atmosphere, and rain falls for the very first time. Rain falls and falls. The oceans fill and begin to respond to the moon, rolling with the tides." [pause and possibly suggest this:] Let us stand and gather close together, and feel what it is like to be water awash in the roll of the tides.

Call: "In our hearts, we call forth gratitude for the gift of liquid water."

Response: "We are grateful for the rains and rivers and oceans of Earth."

5. THE EMERGENCE OF LIFE. Sprinkle salt into the bowl of water.

[Possibly begin by inviting all to stand and to move with the words. Allow pauses between sentences if you do this.] "The rain not only falls upon Earth but cycles between ocean, continent, and atmosphere. Rain running off rock carries vital salts and minerals into the ocean waters, while magma continues to refresh Earth's crust. In a moment of grace [ring bell?], emerging from rock and water, the first living cell pulses into existence. From that cell will come all the creatures of the sea. Forever after, life on Earth will build cells and bodies from liquid water."

[Lead the group in a repeated chant while doing a blessing with water around the circle, or as you take your seat and have the blessing passed around, one to the next. Anoint the top of head of someone, or the neck, with salty water, while chant-singing:] "You are a water creature on a Water Planet." Ask the group to repeat as the blessing continues around the circle, alternating with this songline: "Your blood still bears the traces of the salty sea."

6. THE COMING ONTO LAND. powdered clay, bowl of water

"The oceans teem with bacteria, algae, jellyfish, sponges, trilobites, urchins, fishes, and very much more. Some of the fishes live in shallow coves, their fins becoming sturdy pegs for scuttling along the bottom like crabs. In a moment of grace [ring bell?], some of these fishes venture out onto land, pulling and pushing themselves with their peglike fins. They do this for longer and longer periods of time, through the generations. And so, the first amphibians are born! Our limbs still bear the traces of this four-finned ancestry." [Invite each participant to take a few pinches of powdered clay from a bowl that is passed around, putting the clay into the palm of their hand. They then sprinkle water from the water bowl into their palm, mixing the two into a mud.]

[Hold up your palm of clay, saying something like] "We are creatures of rock and soil, merged with water. Let us paint ourselves with the gift of the land." [All then paint their own faces or hands (and some may playfully paint their neighbor's).]

"Let us rise now, rise up with our amphibian ancestors, struggling against the pull of gravity to celebrate the gift of sturdy limbs. [Pause] Let us breathe deeply now, breathe with our amphibian ancestors to celebrate our inheritance of lungs and the freshness of air. [Breathe] Take a deep breath and make whatever sounds come out on the outbreath, together."

7. THE EMERGENCE OF MAMMALS. light incense.

"In a moment of grace, [ring bell?] amphibians give rise to reptiles, whose eggs can withstand the stress of dry air. Out of the reptiles will come dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. The dinosaurs easily claim the continents, the birds the skies. Meanwhile, the mammals stay small and wary for tens of millions of years, resigned to a life of darting from one safe burrow to the next, favoring the cover of night. Creatures of darkness, our ancestors develop a powerful sense of smell. Even today, odors call forth within us emotions and memories deeper than the realm of reason and word. . . deeper than the realm of sight and sound. Deeper than the realm of reason and word. . . deeper than the realm of sight and sound."

[You then carry the incense around the circle, past each nose, in silence. It might be wise to designate a helper to carry a candle along with you, in case the incense needs to be relit during the circle passage.]

8. INTO THE TREES. tree branch.

[Possibly invite the participants to close their eyes as you lead them through this meditation. Embellish it, and pause if do this.] "A great meteor flares forth from the heavens, crashing [add crashing sound?] to Earth, turning day into night for many months. There is darkness ... darkness ... utter darkness. The dinosaurs die, the little mammals huddle and hibernate in burrows. And when the sun returns, the mammals begin to come out of their burrows. I invite you now to come forth out of your burrows. Notice the light. And notice the devastation, the vacancy of life around you. The Great Radiance of Mammals is about to begin, and you are part of it! Your descendants will flourish, amid a Great Radiance of buzzing insects, fluttering birds, and colorful flowers! One lineage of mammal will take to the trees. [Hold up tree branch and add to altar.] These are the primates. Feel your eyes moving from the sides of your head to the front of your face. And notice that you can see depth now! Now you can leap flawlessly from branch to branch. Meanwhile, your heritage of night vision shape-shifts to accommodate the colors of day. Who might have guessed that your descendents will one day swoon in the presence of a rainbow? All the while, paws for scampering and burrowing are becoming instruments for grasping. I invite you now to study your hands. Admire your supple primate hands with your depth-perceiving, color-sensitive eyes. Know that all these were honed by the welcoming branches of trees... trees: our cherished partners in evolution."

Call: "In our hearts, we call forth gratitude for the trees of the forest that sheltered and challenged our primate ancestors."

Response: "We are grateful for our partners in evolution: the glorious trees."

9. FURTHER GIFTS OF THE PLANT KINGDOM. chocolates and fruit pieces to eat.

[pass plate of chocolates, telling participants to delay eating them until the end] "While still in the trees, our ancestors partake of food that the trees provide: leaves and seeds and fruits. The trees respond, in turn: challenging us by loading leaves and seeds with toxins, luring us by sweetening the pulp of fruit so we might, unawares, disperse their seeds. Our bodies respond, too: we evolve a yearning for sweets and a tongue that can alert us to the presence of even trace amounts of bitter plant poisons. We evolve a liver of exquisite sophistication that can render harmless many other poisons. Now we safely consume plant substances — chocolate and caffeine drawn from the seeds of tropical plants — in amounts that would slay a dog. Let us now eat this chocolate together with joy, and give thanks for the coevolutionary dance of plants and primates."

[pass plate of fruit] "During our sojourn in the forest canopy, we lose powers, too. So abundant the fruit, our cells no longer need to manufacture Vitamin C, because it was all around us. As millennia pass, the primate physiology sloughes off this responsibility. We lose the capacity to create this crucial enzyme. Dogs and cats and horses never lose this skill, but primates will come to rely entirely on plants for this need. By eating this fruit today, we honor the intimate partnership forged between plants and us. As we savor this [name of fruit], let us call out the names of other fruits we are grateful for."

10. OUT OF THE TREES. a whole carrot and pieces of carrot to eat.

[pass plate of carrot chunks] "As the climate dries in our original Eden, the African forest opens into savanna. Our primate ancestors spend less and less time in the trees and more and more time on the ground, where they search for insects and dig for roots and tubers. Might digging sticks to exhume the yam and the carrot be the first significant human tool? [You may want to invite people to stand up and mimic digging actions with a digging stick, or just do it yourself.] We eat this root today to honor our savanna adventure."

11. TIME OF THE HUNT. rock, obsidian or flint points.

"Some digging sticks now become weapons, tipped with chipped stones. With these we set out on the hunt communally. Is it the hunt that urges us to speak to one another, as well as to sign? Whatever the cause, we do know that in a moment of grace, symbolic language emerges in the human. [ring bell?] Let us pass this stone around the circle, hand to hand. And as the talking stone comes to you, I invite you to each share a concept or an idea or a dream that is only be possible to share through language." "

12. FIREMAKERS. roasted almonds or french fries.

"Humans learn to harness and maintain a flame fortuitously lit by lightning. Later, we discover how to beckon fire to appear whenever and wherever we wish. So we become the firemakers. Do we feel Earth trembling with foreboding? With fire we can now flush game, alter the landscape, preserve meat, fend off predators, keep warm, and roast away toxins from seed and tuber. Whole new foods became available as we firemakers learn to roast the cyanide out of almonds and potatoes. Let us warm our almond/potato in the flame right now and enjoy this tasty and nutritious manifestation of stardust, which the plant realm offers up only reluctantly."

13. FARMERS - grains of wheat and cubes of bread, or popped and unpopped corn.

"One day, a moment of grace, [ring bell?] our kind learns not only how to find and prepare seeds, but how to plant and nurture them too. Humans can now stay in one place year after year, and in densities never before possible. Civilization blooms. As you take and eat this grain, speak in reverence the names of the homelands where your forebears tilled the soil."

14. THE DESECRATION OF EARTH. clay into bowl of water; bottom of plate blackened by candle; feather. (Recruit a helper to mix the mud; blacken the plate. Best if this is a team effort, as this component is hugely important and many-parted.)

"We come to today, and the awful truth that in humans, inventiveness often outpaces wisdom and restraint. As Thomas Berry has written, 'The glory of the human has become the desecration of Earth. The desecration of Earth is becoming the destiny of the human.' [pause] Farmed and overgrazed soils are washing into the sea. [Helper sprinkles clay into water bowl.] Earth's firemakers are now burning fuels in such abundance that we are changing the very composition of the atmosphere — blackening our souls. [Hold plate over candle flames and then daub a bit of the carbon black onto forehead or hand. Then go around the circle, do not pass the plate, and daub the blackness onto forehead or hand, as the recipient indicates, maybe saying something. Then, hold up the feather on high.] We are driving into extinction the biotic richness of this beautiful Earth. [Walk the circle holding the feather high while you invite participants to call out names of extinct or endangered life forms. Then stop; ensure there is silence, then dramatically plunge the feather into the candle flame. It will easily burn in a poof! This is a very powerful act, and there will be gasps, so allow time for silence before continuing. End by slowly returning to your seat, head low, while lamenting,] What can be done? What can be done? [Return to seat and allow the next component to answer this question.]


[Begin by ringing a bell?] "What is to be done? What is to be done? We can begin by reclaiming the wisdom and restraint of the past, relearning from cultures throughout the world. We can then yoke this cultural inheritance to a revisioning of the future, a reassessment of our human mode of Earth expression, along with a renewed sense of responsibility to the Universe as its own reworked stardust. We can dream the dream of the Earth. We can respond as Earth participating in its own healing. In so doing, together, surely we will bring about a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship!" [Invite all to close their eyes and meditate in silence on what their own individual contributions might be. What is Earth dreaming through them? What is Earth beckoning forth?]

"To conclude this ceremony, let us sing an old earth-centered chant with an awareness of the new cosmology. Let us retrieve the depth relationship our ancestors had with the soil (earth), the air, the fire, and the water. And let us replenish these concepts with the awesome wonder and intimacy we now can draw from the new story, the Story of the Great Journey."

[Note: the only word changed in this chant is "return" has become "renew"]

The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water
renew, renew, renew, renew.
The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water
renew, renew, renew, renew.
Ay-eh, ay-eh, ay-eh, ay-eh,
Ay-oh, ay-oh, ay-oh, ay-oh.
Ay-eh, ay-eh, ay-eh, ay-eh,
Ay-oh, ay-oh, ay-oh, ay-oh.

[Repeat and repeat while blowing out candles and dissasembling the circle.]

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