Guide to Religious Divorce Rituals
More and more faiths are finding ways to sanctify the end of a relationship.
Some statistics are pleasant ones: our standard of living is higher; we're better educated than ever before; the glass ceiling is moving ever-skyward. There are other statistics, though -- statistics most of us pray we'll never be a part of. Like the 50 percent of all marriages that end in divorce.
But the way we divorce is changing. These days, we're more likely to choose a religious ritual to mark the end of our marriages. Says Rabbi Sharon Sobel, Regional Director of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, "Rituals help effect a transformation. With a civil divorce, when it's done, it's done. But how do you acknowledge the loss of a marriage and relationship, even if it wasn't a great one?"
There's only one catch: If the two of you were getting along, you'd still be married. Why walk back onto the battlefield? But those who've been there, both clergy and laypeople, suggest that divorce rituals ease the transition back to single life and offer closure, a spiritual recognition of your change in status. which, in turn, can up the odds of success if you decide to marry again.
But divorce is often more than just a private decision. If you have children, a ritual can help them acknowledge that it's truly over, while sending a vital affirmation at the same time. Dr. Margot Kaessman, Lutheran Bishop of Hanover, Germany, emphasizes that parents must transmit the positives of their marriage to the children, even after it's over: "Children sometimes experience their parents' marriage only in its disordered phase. It would help them to hear, 'We loved each other, we wanted to stay together, we wanted you.'"
Coming to terms with those truths can help the divorcing couple as well. Divorce hurts our children by depriving them of the family into which they were welcomed. One of Kaessman's suggestions is to incorporate penitential prayers into a divorce ritual, with an emphasis on moving in a healthy, constructive direction. This kind of divorce ritual can help parents dedicate themselves to righting that wrong through civilized co-parenting in the years to come.