Today is Good Friday, a day of mourning when Christians commemorate Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Holy Saturday is a day of vigil, spent in anticipation of Christ's resurrection. Easter Sunday is the most important Christian holiday, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Earlier this month I reflected on his death and resurrection as a metaphor for our own cycles of fallowness and fertility; how what is old must pass away in order for new life to emerge. Knowing it is easier said than done, today my thoughts turn toward the suffering we so often experience as we go through the process of death and rebirth within ourselves.
Author Gloria Karpinski writes, "We suffer more than necessary when we fail to acknowledge the destructive aspect of sacred cycles, their purposes, and the chaos they temporarily bring." How true it is! I create suffering in my denial of what is — in my belief that something is wrong; in my expectation that things should be other than the way they are.
I know the first noble truth of Buddhism can be summed up as something like, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Pain is what happens externally and suffering is what we create internally. Let's just say I'm not enlightened yet. I needed to find a way to work with the is-ness of suffering.
I first heard the phrase "the awful grace" used by Ram Dass, when he spoke about about caring for his dying step-mother. He referred to a quote by Aeschylus, a poet of ancient Greece: "He who learns must suffer. Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
"Against our will, comes wisdom." There's so much humanity in those words! I say them again and again, knowing how hard I've tried - how hard we all try, mostly - to avoid suffering. So often I've thought to myself, If I'd known how hard it was going to be, I never would have done it (signed up, said yes, walked through the door, etc).
And yet, I'm always so glad I did.
I may not be enlightened, but I am optimistic. Often, learning comes through suffering. Wisdom comes through pain. It may be awful, but it's still grace.
I had the honor of working with Margot and Adam to create their wedding ceremony. Like most couples, at first they weren't sure what they envisioned for their ceremony. And again like most couples, after our initial meeting a picture began to emerge. Soon Adam and Margot wrote me with their wish to include the five elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit.
Each of the five rituals we wove into their ceremony held deep meaning and significance for them, but perhaps most important was the element of Earth, represented by their wedding rings. Imprinted with fingerprint-like swirls, their rings symbolized the joining of their lives; the foundation upon which they would build a new life and a new family, together.
Last week Margot gave birth to their first child, a daughter.
Welcome to this world Althea Juniper.
We're so glad you're here!
My niece turned 3 on Monday. I called that evening to say happy birthday and ask how Maya's big day had been. My sister told me how the day began...
"Maya, how old are you?" my sister asked. Maya answered in her little girl lisp, "I'm going to be 3 soon!" "When will you be 3?" my sister wondered. "On my birthday," Maya replied (as she has these last many months). "Well, today is your birthday so now you're 3." Maya was silent as she comprehended this fact, before a look of joy slowly spread across her face.
Not only am I lucky enough to be Maya's auntie; I'm also her godmother. We even share the same middle name. I remember when my sister called to tell me they were naming her Maya Grace. To my discredit, my initial reaction was a belligerent "Wait a minute! That's MY name!!"
But then I met Maya, when she was still only a few days old, and my heart melted into a pool of love for her. I ached with the honor of being her godmother, of sharing between us such a special name. I wanted to do it all just right, including giving her her first piece of jewelry: a tiny silver baby bracelet hand engraved with her name.
About six months later the family gathered together again for Maya's baby blessing. My sister and brother-in-law created a special part in the ceremony for Maya's godparents to speak, forcing me to consider what that truly meant. Our family isn't religious so I knew being asked wasn't just a formality.
I'd been charged with taking an extra special interest in Maya's life, with helping guide her through the terrain ahead, offering what wisdom and experience I have, or hopefully will have gained by the time she needs it. In the end, I decided to write Maya a letter for her blessing ceremony - my heartfelt wish and humble pledge.
My Dearest Maya Grace,
It is a privilege to share the bond of our name, Grace, and the special meaning it carries. May Grace symbolize your connection to your family, to all the ancestors that have gone before you. May you know the Grace of being alive, of relationship and mystery and discovery, of challenge and accomplishment and change.
Most of all, Dear One, may you dwell in Grace. May you feel the Grace of God moving in you and through you, and may your long years on this earth be filled with that presence. Blessings upon you, sweet one, and blessed are we that will walk this journey with you. As your Godmother I will always be here beside you, to help you know Grace in every way that I can.
With all my love,
Today Maya is 3, and tomorrow she'll be 16. With grace the road ahead of her will be long and winding, filled with the joys and sorrows of a full and vibrant life. For now I'm all grown up and fascinating to her, but soon enough I'll be the one following her life with eager interest. And that seems about the best Grace I could ask for.
A few days ago I wrote about a Blessingway gathering with wonderful rituals like tying string mauli bracelets and writing baby blessing cards. Today I want to share a different kind of mother blessing. Only about a week before her due date, my friend Amy invited a few close women friends and henna artist Kelly Flaherty of Henna Elements to come to her home for an impromptu henna belly mother blessing.
Henna has been used since the Bronze Age as an adornment for celebrations including weddings, holidays and coming-of-age rituals. Many countries including Morocco and India have traditions of applying henna during the third trimester of pregnancy. The practice is not only beautiful and soothing in itself; it's an opportunity to experience an ancient and sacred birth ritual.
After eating fruit and chocolate fondue (a mother blessing essential!), talking and getting teary eyed about labor and children and life, Kelly painted this Tree of Life in henna on Amy's belly. This incredible image is actually an impression she recalled from her earliest dream (around 4 or 5 years of age). She sees it as her kundalini energy, which literally means "coiled" in Sanskrit and is often pictured as a snake, binding her fully and profoundly to life.
A few days later Kelly contacted Amy to share with her, "I know you wanted eight [tree limbs] to signify the eight branches of yoga, but for some reason when I was mapping it out, it felt very strong to have three roots at the bottom. It occurred to me when I was finishing that the three 'branches' or roots at the bottom symbolize you, your husband and your daughter creating a safe strong support for the new family member coming in. Sometimes the henna seems to have a mind of it's own."
About a week later, Cian (an Irish name meaning ancient and enduring) Maitreya (a Sanskrit name meaning loving kindness, empathy, compassion and benevolence) was born at home.
Welcome baby boy ~ we're so glad you're here!
Last week I wrote about Spring Rebirth, an internal shift from winter's fallowness to spring's fertility. But there is a reason we associate springtime with eggs and bunnies: babies! I've been honored to take part in several blessing ceremonies for babies due to arrive this spring.
Unlike a conventional baby shower which focuses heavily on presents and shower games, these blessing ceremonies concentrated on the expectant mother. Called a mother blessing or Blessingway, they are rooted in Native American traditions. Blessingway rituals mark the significance of the birth process, gathering the "tribe" to honor and bless the sacred transition into motherhood.
One of my favorite rituals from the mother blessing was when we stood in a circle and wrapped our wrists with yellow yarn, offering our blessings and wishes for the birth. Then we cut the yarn connecting us and tied them into bracelets, each of us wearing ours until the baby is born.
Another favorite were the handmade elephant cards by Ms. Ellaneous. After writing our baby blessings, we strung the cards on ribbon to decorate the baby's room.
Yana Cortlund, co-author of Mother Rising: The Blessingway Journey Into Motherhood,
writes, "Birth is a key life passage for women. But modern culture has become preoccupied with the arrival of the baby-to-be and has lost touch with birth's profound impact on the expectant mother."
As we strive for ever more "both/and" in our society, I hope we celebrate not only the wonderful new person being born (including showering the family with gifts to help them prepare) but the important opportunity to pause: to attend to the sacred within everyday experience, and to nurture our connection to ourselves and each other.
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.