Today, I offer you a guest post from Rev. Candace McKibben, my beloved friend and partner in all things ritual. The photos are by the always amazing David Moynahan. There’s more to come on bears, and restoring them to their deserved sacred status, but we feel satisfied with this start.
This column appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat, Saturday, November 28, page 1C.
The Sacredness of Life
November 26, 2015
Rev. Candace McKibben
About a month ago now, I was asked to participate in a remembrance service for the Florida black bears killed in the recent hunt. No one was sure just how it should look and feel, but that something needed to happen to mark the loss seemed right and important. It took a while to form, but when we met on a recent Friday evening to prepare the space and our hearts for the Requiem for Black Bears to be held the next day, it was clear that healing was happening. Sue Cerulean, who loves the Florida Panhandle and all of its rich life, was deeply impacted by the loss of bear lives and the threat to the orphaned cubs. She likened her feelings about the hunt and her incapacity to do anything about stopping it to the helplessness she felt when her son was critically ill. Knowing the intensity of that maternal pain for my friend, Sue, deepened my understanding of the gravity of the bear hunt and my desire to say yes to her invitation to be a part of a remembrance ceremony.
On Friday evening, Norine Cardea was standing high on a ladder, adjusting the bamboo that arched over the altar creating a woodsy cathedral. Working with Jennifer Clinard, their eye for beauty and meaning was stunning.
The magnificent quilted bear resting on the black altar, his teeth and claws giving realism to his otherwise iconic body and bejeweled head, was powerful.
Linda Hall, who created the altar bear and several others, along with creative masks of woodland creatures used in the opening processional, seemed gratified that her art was being used to bring healing and hope. Luka Sharron was hard at work in the background setting microphones and speakers in just the right places to create sound that would provide clarity as well as an ethereal feeling. The Ursine Chorale, a group of loving, talented singers from the Tallahassee Area Threshold Choir, gathered to practice. Among them was Donna Klein whose love and creativity helped produce the requiem. A church member from the lovely United Church in Tallahassee where we had rented space for the requiem stopped by the church on another matter. I invited her to come into the sanctuary to see the altar and my heart was moved by her generous response. She fell to her knees, bowed her head, and wept. “There is too much killing,” was all she could say.
On the morning of the requiem, those creating the service gathered early to be certain that every detail had been cared for. Artist and musician, Patrick McKinney, tuned his guitar and worked with Luka on the sound. He helped the volunteers who participated in the woodland creature processional understand how best to create the desired mood as they brought the quilted bear down the aisle.
It was a prelude like none I’ve ever been privileged to witness. Velma Frye, healer and musician, rehearsed her exquisite offering of “Canticle for Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” Exquisite photographer, David Moynahan, made helpful suggestions about how best to reposition some of the elements of the altar to take advantage of the light. Everyone was giving their best selves and gifts to create the finest offering of love to the bears.
The words spoken during the ceremony were of respect for the bears and understanding that all of life is sacred and holy. The bears lost, the cubs, the wounded bears, the hunters, the commissioners, those who feel powerless about the hunt, those who favor the hunt – all of life is sacred and holy.
Crystal Wakoa from her Buddhist perspective eloquently encouraged us to hold all of life in our hearts and pray for healing, happiness, and peace. We considered the words of Jewish and Christian scripture that compel us to be good stewards of creation.
We came to the altar and selected a flower from people’s yards to place as a symbol of life and beauty in gratitude on the quilted bear. We each took a blueberry, a part of the bear’s diet, to remind us of our connectedness with the bear and to nourish our souls.
We then selected a bear claw shell, that Margaret Richey had loving gathered on St. Joe beach, as a talisman of our commitment to hold all of life sacred. Specifically not designed to be political, the ceremony was a safe place to grieve the loss of the bears and the diminishment of our own spirits, to honor the importance of holding life sacred, and to renew our souls. It was a tremendous outpouring of love and on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful to be a part of such a sensitive, caring community.