Friday, February 20, 2009

the god squad

before our "spruitje" was born, adam and i had several lengthy conversations about the values we would like to give our children, and very practical and concrete ways of introducing these values to them. things like having an open mind, the desire to help other people, curiosity, getting a good education, etc. but the thing that topped our list, the one thing that we really want most for our children, is to have a sense of wonder, to be touched by the beauty and magnificence of the universe, and to have a connection with a higher power. in other words, we want our children to have a sense of spirituality and sacredness.

we both really like the idea of having godparents, someone who can guide our children in their journeys towards and with God. and the whole baptism ritual feels very, very beautiful and sacred. but we did not want to baptize gracie into a religion, any religion, that she might not ultimately identify with. we want her to choose her own path, rather than choosing it for her.

so we did our own thing: we created a "god squad" for gracie!

gracie's god squad consists of five people, all from various religious/spiritual backgrounds, and all of them very close and loving friends of both adam and me.

there is teresa, my "homegirl," whom i have known since our college days. teresa was raised in a catholic household, attended a private catholic school growing up, and even went to a catholic college with me (that's how we met). but teresa is no longer catholic. her spirituality definitely draws on the deep and beautiful traditions of her catholic upbringing, but teresa has forged her own unique relationship with God. i see her living out her spirituality in many ways: cooking healthy and exquisite meals (ideally to share with good friends); spending ample time outdoors (usually picking berries and apples to can and preserve in order to sustain her through long midwestern winters); through singing (she has an incredible voice! did you know that she sang at the G8 summit in japan over the summer?!); and by speaking truth to power (she is one of the most politically engaged people i know).

we had a ritual with teresa with i was home in minnesota over the summer. it was quiet, just the three of us plus gracie, and we sat along the edge of my aunt and uncle's pool. we dipped our feet in the cool water, and teresa read a reflection to gracie which she had written herself, and which ended with psalm 23:6 -- "surely goodness and kindness will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the lord forever." it was so beautiful, and appropriately simple -- teresa is very much an earth-goddess, so it was natural that we all sat quietly together by the still waters, singing songs and holding hands, and blessing mary grace with our intentions; that is normally what teresa and i do when we're together anyway. it was also very fitting for teresa, who felt she had travelled full circle, because her own baptism as an infant was at her godparents' pool in arizona. adam and i had no idea of this when we planned this ritual -- what a serendipity!

there is also elizabeth, another good friend from our college days. (teresa and elizabeth were actually roommates for a while both during and after college too... in fact, i know elizabeth because i am friends with teresa.) elizabeth is currently in her 4th year at starr king school for the ministry , and upon graduation in one more year will become a unitarian universalist minister. though i don't know much about elizabeth's past spiritual experiences, i can at least see what her future spiritual path will likely be. elizabeth hopes to be a minister of a congregation, and to put that good english major of hers to use by writing moving sermons which call us to action. but just as importantly, i see in her a desire to comfort others by offering a listening ear, a discerning mind, and open arms. elizabeth is very good at listening with her whole heart, and she is not quick to make a decision -- in fact, she is one of the deepest thinkers i know. she really takes her time with you, with an experience, and with a decision, because she wants to experience it fully. and i deeply respect and admire those qualities in her.

the ritual that we had with elizabeth was actually the first ritual that we had for gracie's god squad. it took place on a beach in greece, when adam, gracie, elizabeth, and i were all on holiday together last june. elizabeth wrote out a beautiful reflection, true to her UU calling, which talked about being open and honest with gracie, supporting her in her journey no matter where that journey may take her, and not being judgemental about the spiritual path that gracie ultimately decides upon. she was crying, i was crying, the waves were crashing, the sun was shining... it was beautiful. she even created a little altar by our beach chairs to help hold the sacred space for us all. it was so lovely.

there is matthew, a very dear and old friend of mine from high school. matthew and i, incidentally, have the same birthday. (only he is one year older than me. i was born in the morning, and he was born in the afternoon, and so for a brief couple of hours on our birthday we are the same age, and we like to think about how cool that is, and then we sing "happy birthday" to each other and it's all very sweet and funny, and i really love matthew.) matthew first introduced me to buddhism, when he told me about this group of people who met in the conference room of some computer-something-or-another business in rhinelander, WI (where we were living). computers were still kinda newfangled and whatnot, so i didn't get it and i don't really know what they were selling. something about frogs. i don't know. but that's not the point. the point is that matthew introduced me to this buddhist group which met once a week, and it was so out there because i had never in my life been talking about things like this before. i was raised in a small midwestern town where everyone was assumed to be christian, and people with other religions lived in places like saudi arabia, china, and israel. or maybe new york city. but buddhists in my town! now, that was really interesting to me! matthew was one of the first people to open my eyes to the religious diversity of my neighbors, and to help me start thinking critically about the tradition in which i had been raised. just because it was the religion of my parents, didn't mean it was the "right" religion for me. it was absolutely earthshattering for me, especially at the critical age of 16 when i was just discovering for myself what it really meant to be an independent and free thinking individual in the world. matthew has since cultivated spirituality, and has devoted himself to the study of buddhism. he has lived with buddhist monks and learned from them, and is on a path to someday become a monk himself. matthew used to have really long, beautiful, thick, wavy, gorgeous hair in high school, but he has since shaved it all off to reflect his spiritual path. and honestly, i think he looks more like himself this way. it's just Who He Is.

we met up with matthew when we were all in rhinelander over the summer. matthew made the drive down from marquette, MI (where he lives with his wife and their new baby daughter), just to meet his goddaughter and to be a part of the blessing ceremony we hoped to have with him. it was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day, and we all sat out on the edge of a dock on a private pond, surrounded by tamaracks and cattails. my parents and sisters had just arrived, too, because we were about to say goodbye to them and begin our road trip back to colorado, so we invited them to witness our ceremony and they happily accepted. we chanted an invocation to kwan yin, the bodhissatva (like an angel sort of) of compassion. this is what matthew wrote about the chant that we sang:

The chant was Na Mo Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa. The first term, namo, is an invocation, like "hail" or something. Kuan Shih Yin is just a longer version of her name--the Shih is an abbreviation of the Chinese form of Shakyamuni, the Buddha's name, same as in my Dharma name, Shih Yung Yin, so it's like a family name. And Pusa is Chinese for Bodhissatva, so it just means something like "hail Kuan Yin Bodhissatva," and the purpose is simply to invite her blessings. Kuan Yin's name in Sanskrit is Avalokiteshvara, "the one who hears the cries of the world." Her blessing is a compassionate heart for the suffering of all beings.

isn't that beautiful? then matthew gave gracie a necklace with a buddha hidden inside it and a prism from a trip he took to ireland many years ago. what a good man he is.

the other man in gracie's god squad is our friend rob. adam and i met rob shortly after we moved to colorado in 2002, and we found him to be really intelligent, funny, and just plain weird. we liked him immediately. rob's dad was raised in a very fundamentalist household, which now reflects in rob because of rob's suspicion of most organized religions and the dogmas they adhere to. rob makes up his own path, which seems to draw on history, politics, nature, and the sacred feminine. he finds spiritual messages in political essays and he connects to a higher power through classical music (he is an excellent pianist), camping and hiking in great expanses of wilderness, and political actions/social justice issues. he says that if he believes in anything, though, it's the "divine sacredness of life." he is someone who finds spiritual significance in literature and learning, and is moved by the beauty we humans represent because, in his words, "we are all manifestations of the most mysterious miracle: Life." and because not everyone identifies with this idea of "God," adam and i both felt it was important to represent that different type of spirituality as well. because even if gracie, like rob, doesn't necessarily believe in "God," she should still believe in something. maybe the goodness of humanity. maybe the strength of her spirit. maybe the sacred beauty of nature. something. and we both think that rob will do a good job modelling this for our daughter.

along with rob, there is shelby. we know shelby through rob, and i swear that the two of us must have been separated at birth because we are virtually the same person. like me, she is a massage therapist. like me, she has an altar to the goddess in her home. (in fact, shelby has an entire sanctuary room in her house, filled with amulets, statues, prisms, and gems that she has gathered during her spiritual quests.) and like me, she connects with the Universe through nature, lighting candles, watching the moon, and learning about the sacred feminine. we both have a profound connection to mary -- but for me it is the virgin mary, and for shelby it is mary magdalene. shelby even went on a mary magdalene pilgrimage to the south of france a couple of summers ago, and came back with the most amazing stories and reflections. and i think that a woman who spends a significant amount of her time and money on a journey like that is just the type of woman who should be involved in gracie's spiritual upbringing!

we had a very simple and meaningful ceremony with both rob and shelby when we were in colorado over the summer. rob and shelby were living together at that time, in a house near regis university in denver. (and although shelby and rob have decided that their paths have taken a new direction, they continue to honor their path of being in gracie's life and being supportive friends with each other in order to do that. we are proud of their mindfulness and maturity!) regis is a catholic school with a beautiful chapel on its campus, which is open during the daytime. we all walked over there together on a hot sunny morning, and entered the quiet and cool sanctuary of the church. rob sat down in front of the piano, and shelby brought her guitar. they both spoke to us about how much they love us as friends, and how honored they both felt to be invited into this circle of godparents. shelby gifted gracie with a very beautiful mary magdalene icon that she collected on her spiritual quest in france, for gracie to hang up above her own altar someday. it was extremely generous and kind of her. then they sang to us joni mitchell's song "the circle game," while i danced with gracie in my arms.

and the seasons, they go round and round.
and the painted ponies go up and down.
we're captive on the carousel of time.
we can't return, we can only look behind from where we came
and go round and round and round in the circle game.

little did they know that i sing that song to gracie as a lullabye. it was just perfect. and more proof that we made the right decision when we invited them to be a part of gracie's god squad.

then we all had a picnic underneath a colorado blue spruce, in a grotto with a statue of the virgin mary.

we have asked these people to be a part of mary grace's journey, not as a hobby for them to pick up when it is most convenient to their lives, and not only temporarily, but forever and always for as long as they live. this is a responsibility that they have accepted with open hearts and open minds, and we trust that in the decades to come, gracie will be inspired by them and will learn from them. whatever form that takes: maybe it's taking gracie camping in the grand canyon to be inspired by nature; maybe it's sending gracie a book that might speak to her; maybe it's designing a ritual for gracie at different stages in her life, to honor the wisdom and changes in her body and mind; maybe it's introducing her to a church or taking her on a spiritual retreat when she is old enough. whatever form it takes, we just ask these people to be active and engaged and involved in our daughter's spiritual journey.

we understand that gracie's decisions are hers to make, and she may not choose to believe in God, or to go to church, or to pray or light candles to ask for guidance or blessings. but we hope that by instilling in our daughter a sense of the sacred and divine, that she will discover on her own which path towards enlightenment is right for her.


Queen E said...

Hooray! I'm so happy to see pictures of all the god squad folks here. Hello to all of you!

And holy smokes, what a bunch of beautiful settings to have blessing ceremonies. Gracie is a lucky little girl, being blessed so many times over in so many gorgeous places.

Anonymous said...

How delightful! Gracie is very blessed....