08/21/2013 05:46 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Weddings: Why Ceremony? Why Ritual? (Part I)

For many years, I've written about rites-of-passage -- especially those to do with weddings -- and how putting attention on the journey within deepens and sweetens the transition as one moves through the ritual process. Usually focusing on bridal rituals and the intimacy of a woman's rite-of-passage into marriage, I share ways for women to stay heart-centered during the frenetic whirl of wedding planning.

So when asked recently about rituals and guidelines for same-sex couples, as opportunities to marry were expanding, my thoughts went to the past -- where I go to explore origin myths and historical references that can bring a depth to our modern choices. I considered which of the ritual stories from what's deemed "traditional" wedding ceremonies would best inspire same-sex couples -- couples who may be caught in a bit of paradox. Although we celebrate the freedoms in a less structured society, some beautiful things worth saving have fallen away, leaving the true nature and power of ritual unfamiliar to many.

"The need for ritual is a basic human instinct, as real, as urgent and as raw as our need for food, shelter and love," writes Donna Henes. The ritual expert shares that human beings have a "compelling urge to merge with the infinite" -- and that's where rituals can take us. Under the influence of their mysterious rhythm, rituals move us toward some sense of sweet surrender.

According to Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth: "The main theme in ritual is the linking of an individual to something larger than their own physical body -- something outside of what one knows life to be." And it's because of this essential nature that ritual can touch our lives where we feel the most tender and vulnerable.

Working with thousands of couples of all stripes through the years, as their emotions bubbled up while making plans to marry, I'd see how weddings were a great opportunity to -- of course, celebrate love -- but also to mend any old hurts, even emotional scars that may surface during their rite-of-passage. Healing the past is important for all of us, but especially relevant if you have struggled to simply be recognized for who you truly are and with whom you love.

Participating in these inherited rituals, in "something outside of what one knows life to be," can be healing and restorative, yes. But it also connects you to the full-tilt-boogie of all aspects of life, full of mystery and pleasure, like love itself. Nonetheless, rituals are powerful only to the degree in which we're willing to surrender to that something precious within. Some couples seize the opportunity and others merely "get married."

In our topsy-turvy modern world, the "absence of significant ceremony in our lives" leaves many people emotionally dangling, "feeling disconnected and confused," Donna Henes added. "Like sex, ceremony offers us a way to relate intimately with the primordial universal force and allows us to embrace that sacred power that informs and fuels all existence." That's not such a tall order when we realize, as Henes declares: "Ritual is our lifeline to the divine" -- and therefore to "our own true best selves."

As a gay couple, you can embrace the intimacy of ritual and ceremony for your wedding without falling victim to the mainstream's rather tired and institutionalized "traditions" that have become more commercial than cherished. You can embrace the magic and wisdom of ancient rituals, yet make them fresh and vibrantly your own with a deep breath pause and a bit of good humor. Then once you're on the other side of the divide -- more open and aware, with clear eyes and a strong heart -- you'll know why you began this journey. As Thich Nhat Hanh prompts us: "Smile, breathe and go slowly."