Celebrating the major transitions in life is as old as humanity: archeologists have found evidence of funeral rites for Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals dating back 60,000 years. It seems that all human cultures have marked key moments in their lives with ceremony and speeches, music and feasting.
Rites of passage are a time for solemn commitments and joyful celebrations. They are also a time for reflection. They are moments when we step back from our daily concerns and look at our lives in a broader context. We explore the beliefs and values that give shape and meaning to our lives.
For many people these values—and their underlying existential beliefs—are religious. But there is nothing intrinsically religious about celebrating rites of passage. Many non-religious people like to celebrate too, but they prefer to do so in secular ceremonies, where they will not find themselves saying things they do not believe.
The most common secular ceremonies are weddings and funerals, but there are other occasions where people may be asked to say some meaningful words: an invocation to open a legislative session, or a benediction before a formal meal.
Below are several examples of secular expressions that address gratitude, remembrance, sorrow and thanks written by Humanist Celebrants.
To replace traditional “grace” during mealtime:
Corn and grain, meat and milk
Upon our table width and length
With loving thought and careful craft
Through so many hands have passed
Essence of life, fruits of our labors
Bringing sustenance and strength
To ours and all our neighbors
May we all be grateful for all we have
And compassion for those without.
— Douglas Van Curren, Humanist Celebrant and President of Humanists of Idaho
To replace a Thanksgiving prayer:
We pause on this Thanksgiving Day to consider all we have to be grateful for:
For the wonders of the natural world and the beauty of each season in turn.
For the resources of this world, to be valued and used wisely.
For the people around the globe with whom we share a common humanity and desire for a better, more peaceful world.
For the connection with family and friends who nurture and support us each day, especially those gathered with us today.
For the food we are about to share and for all who brought it to us.
For the future and all the opportunities that are before us.
We acknowledge all these things today with appreciation and gratitude.
— Kathy Diedrich, Humanist Celebrant from MN
Secular reflections and remembrances at a funeral service:
In sorrow we gather, to say our farewells to [NAME] S/he touched our lives in many and varied ways and we will miss her/him. We gather also, to support [NAME]’s family and friends, and to draw support from them in this time of shared grief. And finally, we gather this day to take our first step on the path to healing, knowing that [NAME] will live on in our hearts and in the impact s/he had in our world.
As we look at the depth of the night sky, as we feel the sun’s warmth, as we hear the power of the ocean’s waves, as we touch the softness of a rabbit’s fur, and as we experience the tenderness of a parent’s smile we are reminded of the vastness of our world, and know that it was changed for the better by [NAME]’s presence here.
—Kathy Diedrich, Humanist Celebrant from MN
At this greatest time of joy, we are reminded of those we wish could be here to share in our happiness. While we often feel these loved ones are with us in our hearts, they are greatly missed especially at the milestones in our lives. [NAME] ask that we all take a moment to remember those who are not able to be with us today. In particular, at this time, we would like to honor both of their fathers – [NAME] and [NAME]. [NAME OF COUPLE] would surely be joyous to know that [NAME] have found each other and have found true love and happiness together. Please share in a moment of silence to honor the men who loved them, and helped to make them who they are today, as well as recognize our love and appreciation for all those we miss most on this day.
— Donna Forsythe, Humanist Celebrant from PA
Life continues after loss, though it is never the same. We face a new world, but we face it with the love and support of our family and friends. They celebrate the joyous times, and they give us strength in the difficult moments.
Loss is a part of life. Our lives revolve through joy and sorrow, plenty and lack, loneliness and companionship. At times we determine the course we travel, and at times we find ourselves swept along by the waves.
Let us pause for a moment of silent reflection on the memory of [NAME]. Loving memory is our greatest tribute.
—Rabbi Adam Chalom, Humanist Celebrant from IL
Have you written a secular or humanist expression for life’s major events and would like to share it with others? Leave a comment below!