Soul Window

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soul_windowTall, dark, beautiful and belligerent-looking, Nan Hall Linke’s doll is a maiden who became a warrior.

A psychotherapist with spiritual focus, Linke has no trouble imagining such a metamorphosis.

Her interior world is ripe with dreams, symbols, archetypes and adventure. Through leading and teaching group classes in ritual, she helps others to quest: coaxing, encouraging, even goading people to open doors inside themselves.

Like her students, who sometimes return class-after-class, Linke views ritual as a way to transcend reason, access the spiritual and bring change. So she easily accepts the doll’s transformation as related by the dollmaker.

The doll reminds Linke of her own journey. She is a guide on a literally purple path of spiritual growth.

That purple path, a thick roll of plastic meant for crafts projects and outdoor tablecloths, sometimes winds through Linke’s sun-kissed garden and patio. Tentative pilgrims sit on it. Seekers stalk unnamed goals on it. The weary rest and reflect before starting anew.

But start again they must.

“When people sign up for a ritual class, the thing I always find amazing is that half the people have the same issue,” Linke said. “I just put out a sign-up sheet and say, “if you’re interested in a ritual class.’ Then we have the first class, we start going around the room and everyone says why they’ve come and its like: Echo, Echo, Me, too. Me, too.”

As she teaches, Linke likens ritual to “the soul’s thereafter,” a longed-for arena freeing the psyche to plumb its depths so the person may intuitively follow where he or she feels led.

Ritual is a “response to the search for meaning,” Linke told one class. “It’s a reverence for risk, change, surrender, obedience, sacrifice and mystery. It also deals with the possibility of resurrection and grace.”

Her perspective is reflected among many contemporary thinkers.

Christian theologians highlight the value of the church’s transforming rituals. From the community emphasis of Holy Communion to the joining of two individuals in the marriage service, ritual weaves through church history and practice.

Among Jews, the home-based rituals of such holidays as Passover are enjoying a rebirth as non-observant Jews embrace them with new fervor. Other religions from Hinduism to Islam are experiencing similar rejuvenation.

African-American churches hold rites of passage for young boys to strengthen their sense of responsibility at manhood. Women’s groups revamp and rewrite traditional religious ritual to find new meaning in patriarchal traditions. Evangelicals convert to Eastern Orthodox churches, seeking God’s mystery and majesty as symbolized in the tradition’s worship.

Even people with little or no religious ties are finding new meaning in ritual. In San Francisco and Houston seekers walk labyrinths, reenacting ancient searches. In Philadelphia last weekend, black women marched to affirm their solidarity. There are books on rituals for sacred living, walking for reflection, painting to unlock creativity and meditation to access inner silence.

“At its most intense, ritual leads us into worlds not realized and becomes sacred,” British director and writer James Roose-Evans argued in Passages of the Soul, Ritual Today (Element, $19.95).

Writer and lecturer Thomas Moore pondered why people are so enchanted at the prospect of setting out in a canoe, a small rowboat or a great ship in his book, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (HarperCollings, $25). “In some deep way, we are living out a ritual that has strong ties to Jesus in the boat with his apostles, the Buddhist on the raft of religion, and Odysseus on his sea voyage home.”

In her classes, Linke urges students to appropriate ritual for growth. “It’s a process that maintains the integrity of what is sacred in our lives. It’s an alchemical vessel change. It’s nature’s pathway for healing loss and creating wholeness. It’s what we call healing play for adults.”

Yoga teacher Moira Martin took her first ritual class with Linke seven years ago. Soon afterward, she returned to college to finish her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She confronted personal loss when her mother died.

In each instance, ritual was a path to change and freedom.

In classes with Linke, Martin made a compass, a magnet and a clock, emblazoning each with what became holy symbols in her life. Later she made dream pillows, painting haunting faces, abstract images and landscapes on them. She now sells them and makes them for friends.

“Ritual is a way to take you from being stuck into change,” Martin said. “A lot of them weave together creativity. I think ritual sort of honors that part of me that hadn’t been honored before. It started out as fun, and it started out as play, and it became something much deeper.”

Composer and pianist Anita Kruse discovered ritual linked her to her dreamworld, childhood and inner creativity in her first class with Linke five ears ago. In her first class with Linke five years ago. In her first ritual, she sewed multicolored fabric and other items onto a blue jean jacket, creating a ceremonial garment.

“This ritual was about the things I had lost,” Kruse said. “There were seven. For each, I got fabric to represent it.”

While Martin found ritual helped link her to Irish ancestors, Kruse felt herself recovering something much older, a distinctly feminine sense of the sacred. Reared in a military family, she never felt grounded in a place. Ritual linked her, strengthening her musical skill and creativity.

“It just heightens everything,” Kruse said. “It made everything more conscious. A lot of our creative energy is in the dar. Once it’s expressed, it is in the light. Until then, it’s there. It’s waiting. Doing rituals brought everything out of the dark.”

Linke, trained in traditional psychotherapy and in the approach of C.G. Jung, teaches that ritual comes naturally to children. They collect things, bury things, throw things up in the air. Work, play, school, even sleeping, may involve ritual for a child. Following natural instincts, a little boy refuses to go to bed without a beloved toy. A little girl insists on wearing a certain outfit on a particular day.

“When I first taught this class years ago, I titled it “The Ritual Process: Healing Play for Adults’,” Linke said. “The reason for that is, in childhood, we haven’t moved from our healing sensing, intuitive selves into the religion of thinking which we develop when we go to school.”

During each four-week ritual class, Linke is amazed at the paths students choose. Many begin with a few symbols of their quests and a hazy idea, or no idea, of where seeking will take them.

Sitting cross-legged on her patio atop part of the purple path, Linke smiles as she recalls the memories.

One student with a number of advanced degrees longed to understand where they might lead her. She laid the degrees in front of her, one after another and used them as a path in her ritual. Another imagined her financial struggles as though she were running a marathon. She tacked money all over her shoes in her ritual.

“I am in awe at what comes out of people, “Linke said. “They make a leap of faith to come to the class. They sit there for three weeks and say, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what you are talking about.’ and I say, ‘Just wait.’ And they show up on the fourth week with all this stuff and all this energy, and their lives are never the same.”

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