MEMORY LANE: North Van non-denominational minister connects people with nature

As we navigate a world dominated increasingly by devices and screens, we turn to our cultural heritage in search of ceremonies and rituals that support our sense of place, connect us with others and with nature, and nourish our spirit.

These fundamental human needs, shared by all cultures, have their origins in the realm of myth and legend. In the northern European pagan tradition, this time of the year anticipates the return of light. Imbolc, Brigid’s Day and Candlemas, the origin of Groundhog Day, are celebrated on Feb. 1 and 2, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

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We restore these intangible connections through the infinite variety of ritual and ceremony that exist in all the world’s cultures. Some of these are unique, some we share, and others we create for ourselves according to our needs.

Well-versed in the realm of myth and legend, ritual and ceremony that mark the changes life brings, Abegael Fisher-Lang is an ordained non-denominational minister and a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant.

Celebrants create ceremonies which recognize and honour life’s passages. In her practice, Abegael incorporates elements from myth and legend that speak to our spirit, that part of our consciousness that is not data driven.

“We want to bring meaning and inspiration to life events through ceremony, not necessarily in traditional ways, and to include family and friends in the process. At the wedding of a Chinese and Persian couple, we incorporated a fecundity blessing: one giving the other a taste from a goblet filled with honey,” says Abegael.

At another wedding, a couple held a handfasting ceremony. Handfasting is a unity ritual and source of the phrase “tying the knot.” Abegael usually provides a silken crimson ribbon to bind the couple together. In one instance, this couple chose to use a cord of union made by the bride from the clan tartans of their respective grandmothers.

In a ring warming ceremony, wedding rings are placed in a bag, often with other meaningful items, on this occasion, a cherished family rosary. The bag circulates among the wedding guests, so that everyone participates, and returns to the bride and groom.

Abegael’s affinity for story and ceremony started early. Growing up in Nova Scotia, she sang in her church choir, a child lifted by the songs of praise in the consecrated space illuminated by light pouring through stained glass windows. She found that joy in nature, too, from reading and writing poetry and acting out stories from the Bible in the forest and fields.

Storytelling led Abegael to her vocation as a celebrant. This part of her story began soon after she came west during a visit in 1981 and decided to make North Vancouver her home for herself and her three children.

The first story Abegael told in public was the West African folktale, Anansi and the Box of Stories. “I was terrified in advance but I told myself, ‘I love this story that tells how stories came into the world. Others will, too,’” she says.

“When I got up on stage, something happened. Part of me was telling the story and part of me was listening to the story being told. I got to the end finally and I was elated. I survived! And that was the beginning.” 

Abegael told the Anansi stories and many others over the years at the Vancouver Childrens’ Festival, at the Silk Purse in West Vancouver and as an educator at the Vancouver Waldorf School (located in North Vancouver, despite its name).

Our connection with nature and spirit, and the expression of that relationship through practical application in daily life, is integral to the Waldorf curriculum. This was a natural fit for Abegael, a lifelong student of the myths and legends that continue to inform our lives today.

Stories connected Abegael to the rituals and ceremonies that have their roots in myth and legend. Over time and many tellings, stories integrate into ritual and ceremony, becoming part of our personal, ancestral and community heritage.

A celebrant offers far more than “hatching, matching and dispatching.” Ceremonies can be adapted for healing and blessing, for families and children. As a member of the collaborative group, North Shore Senior Services Circle, Abegael’s practice includes ceremonies related to age.  In our culture, for example, marking the transition of our elders from their homes into seniors’ residences through leave-taking and welcome ceremonies can help alleviate the sadness that comes with such significant transitions.

As we enter the age of legacy, we recognize that the money and property we leave behind does not define us. Nor is everyone able to leave material possessions. Yet each one of us leaves our story, what we contribute in life, as a legacy for future generations to inherit.

“Each of our stories is as important and valuable as the world myths,” says Abegael. “Stories elevate us as individuals and as a culture, and transform into our heritage. I lift my hands in awe and gratitude for the gift of story.”

Learn more about Abegael and her work at lifethreads.ca and about North Shore Senior Services Circle at northshoreseniors.ca.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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