Read an Excerpt
Bless This ChildA Comprehensive Guide to Creating Baby Blessing Ceremonies
By Susanna Stefanachi Macomb Andrea Thompson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb with Andrea Thompson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWith Each Child, the World Begins Anew!
A child enters into our midst, and face to face, hand to hand with this perfect creation, we are compelled to whisper, "It's a miracle." In this child we see infinite potential and we place our greatest hopes.
A baby reminds us from where we came. A baby takes us back to who we really are, before we accumulated all the layers of life. A child points to our innocence, to purity, and to glee, for only a baby has the capacity to laugh like that, at the sheer joy of being alive. When we witness a child's indescribable belly laugh, we rediscover who we are. As Christianity teaches: "Verily I say unto you, unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven ... for of such is the kingdom of God." Simply put, children are closer to heaven.
Babies even smell like heaven! What parent does not rush home, perhaps from a hard day at work, yearning for the sweet smell of her newborn? With our noses nuzzled into the top of our babies' heads or in the crooks of our toddlers' necks, we feel we are home, right where the heart is. Embracing a child brings us back to what is truly important in life, and our day falls again into perspective. We experience a sense of inner peace and belonging.
When a child is born, all else in our lives seems to pale in comparison. Often we wonder what we did before having children that was really important. Life seems permanently divided into two parts: prebaby and postbaby. As one parent wrote to me, "I wish I could tell you how she has changed our lives, but I honestly can't remember what life was like before her. It is like all the questions have been answered." Can there be anything more life transforming?
And so, my heartfelt congratulations on the birth of your new baby! You have embarked on an exciting journey, one that will take you to places that you cannot even imagine at this point. For such a momentous rite of passage, many families feel a need to welcome and bless their children with a ceremony. With our hearts filled with gratitude for the gift of this newly arrived soul, it is a time to celebrate. Among the first questions on the minds of new parents is this one: How do we introduce our baby to our world and our world to our baby? If you are reading this book, this is probably the question on your mind right now. A baby welcoming, after all, is truly one of the handful of great and grand memorable events that span a lifetime, the passages that mark major family transitions.
I have led hundreds of such baby blessings, and these are absolutely my favorite ceremonies to perform because to me they represent pure and boundless joy. The grace I meet upon these children's faces, the presence of their families in my life, are the great gifts of my work. This is a work that makes the heart sing! As an ordained interfaith minister, I serve families from an amazing variety of backgrounds. They are nondenominational, interfaith, intercultural, multicultural, interracial, interdenominational, same faith, and humanist. Among them are traditionalists and nontraditionalists, the religious and nonreligious, liberals and conservatives. I spend time getting to know each of my families. And I have learned a great deal about the needs and wishes of modern-day parents.
Some are seeking ideas on how to plan and carry out a welcoming ceremony for their child that is nonreligious but spiritual in nature. Some wonder if it's possible to incorporate individualized elements within the traditional services and practices of the church, the synagogue, or the mosque. Others are faced with the need to honor and acknowledge different faiths and family traditions.
Many new parents looking for just such advice and suggestions have found me through my website and my previous book, Joining Hands and Hearts, about designing interfaith wedding ceremonies. Here is a small sampling from the e-mails I have received:
"What my husband and I know for sure is that we want our child to be honored and welcomed into this world properly and that we would like a ceremony based on love and life and in celebration of both families and our new joy."
"When we were married, we had a wonderful, inclusive wedding ceremony attended by my parish priest and a rabbi. We were really pleased with the nature of our ceremony, but we have not been able to find local resources in terms of raising an interfaith child or even how to conduct a naming ceremony that might be inclusive like our wedding."
"I've been trying to think ahead about a ceremonial celebration of the birth of our first baby. We are no longer affiliated with any church, but we believe in the sacred event of life and want to honor that somehow, in a powerful, connecting way that brings our families and friends together to celebrate the life of our child."
"This is our first child and we wish to create a ceremony for him that welcomes him into this world and celebrates his uniqueness. We particularly liked the idea you mention of a ceremony that honors family members and friends. You also state that your ceremonies have a universal context. This is especially important to us."
Do you hear echoes of your own hopes and concerns in those words?
Bless This Child is for you if you and your spouse are in a same-faith marriage, or if you are in an interfaith marriage, or if you and your partner are parents with no faith-based inclinations whatsoever. Our emphasis is on fashioning a personal, meaningful occasion that feels uniquely right to the people involved and that completely reflects your beliefs and wishes.
I call this a spiritual ceremony. Love is the key. We begin by focusing on the heart, on love, on that which is common to you and me and all life. Then we bring it up a notch—or two or three—to that which points to something greater than ourselves yet is in ourselves, to something sacred. Certainly, the birth of a child, and the ceremony that celebrates it, touches the sacred. After all, we are dealing with the miracle of life. Family is honored and embraced. Traditional aspects of baptisms and baby namings are celebrated in a universal context. All language is warm and inclusive. There is no judgment, agenda, or bias, no religious dogma.
In designing a child's welcoming ceremony, there can be no cookie-cutter solutions, for your family's tapestry is uniquely woven from many individual threads of personal, spiritual, religious, and cultural experiences and beliefs, past and present. Yet sadly, so many of life's rites of passage are punctuated by rote rituals. When I became an interfaith minister, I was determined that each ceremony I conducted would be deeply reflective of the spiritual and emotional enormity of what was going on with these particular participants. I believe it is my function as a celebrant to help bring all those gathered for the occasion from the everyday eating, drinking, walking life, into a sense of the sacred, and often into the transcendent. To do this, we must see with the eye of the heart, and I work hard to create ceremonies that pierce the heart.
With the information you find in these pages—readings, blessings, prayers, rituals, and the real-life stories of couples and their baby namings—you can design and orchestrate your own ceremony, one to pierce the heart, one that completely reflects your family, beliefs, and cultural heritage.
It is my hope, too, that clergy from all faiths will use the material in this book, perhaps adapted to their own religion and particular needs, in their services.
If You Are an Interfaith Couple
It may interest you to know that approximately 30 million couples in the United States now live in interfaith households. Since there is little information available regarding baby ceremonies for these families, I have devoted a good portion of this book to the needs of the interfaith couple. You may have questions that so many of these parents ask me. What is an interfaith ceremony? What rituals can take place? Is it possible to have a baby blessing that will honor both traditions without offending our parents? Who will officiate? Where will it take place? Will our children be confused being raised in a two-faith household? Are there spiritual communities that welcome interfaith families? What support resources are available?
Over the following pages, we offer possible answers and solutions to these questions. The options are many, perhaps more than you know. I have no agenda. Nor do I take sides. My job is to serve your needs with the utmost love and care I can muster. When you are informed, you are better able to make choices that work best for your family. The answers lie with you, within the deep recesses of your soul.
Here is how I explained the concept of interfaith and the interfaith ceremony in my previous book, Joining Hands and Hearts:
Interfaith is not a religion. It walks among the religions. Interfaith begins when we create a bridge between one set of beliefs and traditions and another. We start by listening to each other and to the humanity in all of us. Interfaith emphasizes the universal principles and spiritual compassion taught by all schools of divinity and ethics. Each religion is an instrument for the divine, and together the world's religions form a glorious symphony. Interfaith is the acceptance and celebration of humankind in all its magnificent faiths, colors, cultures, and traditions. It is the acknowledgment that there is but one light that burns brightly through each faith and within each heart. In its essence, this light is love. In an interfaith ceremony we remember that it is love that transcends all. The spiritual teaching at the core of all religious traditions and humanist philosophies are emphasized. As Albert Einstein put it, "Remember your humanity!"
Someone once asked me, "What are the beliefs of an interfaith minister?" I told him that I could only answer for myself, and this was my answer:
I believe that God, by whatever name, is that which exists within, connects, and binds us all. The late Unitarian minister and theologian Forrest Church expressed it in these words: "God is not God's name. God is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each." Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Brahman, Great Spirit, Chi, Love, Universal Spirit, Divine Presence—all are among the different names for God.
I believe that God has billions of faces and is always in front of you, everywhere.
I believe that the most important goal of every religion is to respect and revere all life, and in doing so, we revere God.
I believe that I do my job best when I help others find the transcendent in ordinary life, and in doing so, we hear the song of the universe.
Bottom line: the ceremonies within this book are rooted in love, the same love that brought your baby into this world in the first place.
I have had the privilege of working with people of all faiths, cultures, and colors. As I walk alongside these families through life's major rites of passage, I am aware that it is a sacred walking. This walking fills me with gratitude.
Take my hand, and we shall begin.
Chapter TwoThinking about Your Ceremony: A Questionnaire for Parents
When a couple first comes to me to begin talking about a naming ceremony for their child, they often are not quite certain just what they are seeking or what would be appropriate to their needs, their religious inclinations, and the wishes of older family members. Before we begin to sketch out some possibilities, I give them a questionnaire I have designed and suggest they review it.
Here, for you, is that questionnaire.
Read it over. Write in your responses. Fill it out with your partner, or have him or her complete his or her answers on a separate form. Here is a physical place for you to organize your wishes, feelings, and ideas, to put down on paper the guidelines that will help to shape the ceremony that evolves.
Take your time. Some of the questions will resonate with you; for others, you may not have anything specific to contribute. This is not a test. Not every space must be filled in. But I hope you do elect to complete as much of the questionnaire as possible, because I think you will find, as so many of my couples have reported, that this is a thought-provoking process and an enjoyable one, too. It will help you better articulate your needs—what you want and do not want in your baby's ceremony. Among other benefits, the questionnaire will encourage you to begin to consider how you wish to mention or involve family members.
What you will be doing is sketching out a rough framework into which can be fitted particular ceremonial elements, such as readings and prayers. In the course of thinking through and organizing your preferences, you are also creating a roadmap for the officiant who will eventually lead your ceremony. When it's completed, make a copy of it and bring it along when you meet with your officiant.
You will see that the questionnaire includes spaces for some nuts and bolts data: names, dates, time, place. These are concrete bits of information that obviously your officiant will need. But in addition, you will have the opportunity to express your innermost feelings about your child and how you see your roles as parents. If you wish, you may ask your celebrant (priest, minister, rabbi, imam, monk, or pundit) to include some of your responses as informal remarks at points in the ceremony. Or you yourself can read certain portions to your guests.
My heart melts when I read how much the parents I work with love their littlest angels! Indeed, many tell me that in greeting their child, they have met the meaning of their own existence. Children expand our capacity to love and help us grow exponentially. Indeed, the littlest ones among us become our greatest teachers. I always lace parents' responses from the questionnaire into the ceremonies I conduct, and the loving tenderness this creates in the room is palpable.
In the sample ceremonies in Part III of this book, I have included examples of how I incorporated parent questionnaire responses, for your reference and enjoyment. You and your celebrant can do the same, if that is what you wish. In hearing other families' testimonials about their newborn babies and young children, you may find your own feelings reflected in their words. They may touch home and inspire you.
While answering the questionnaire, and while reading my sample ceremonies later, you will realize, I believe, that a baby naming ceremony provides much opportunity for individuality, more than you might now imagine—the opportunity, for example, to convey the funny, touching, heart-rending anecdotes and tales that make you, your child, and your family one of a kind. That is what a baby naming ceremony from the heart is all about.
One more thing: With the completed questionnaire, you have created a very special document that will gain meaning over time. I have learned from my couples that it is usually stored away, maybe in the "baby box" containing the important memory items from those first days and weeks. Imagine your grown child at some point reading his parents' most cherished hopes and dreams for him as his life began to take shape. Imagine her reading these words when she herself becomes a parent. That is the power of the questionnaire and its ultimate purpose. It is an effort you make now with rippling rewards into the future.
So settle back with a pencil and pad (of course, write directly on these pages, if space allows for your answer—this is your book!), a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and consider these:
Questions for Baby Welcoming, Baby Blessing, Baby Naming, Baby Dedication, or Universal Baptism
Write down your child's full name. List your child's parents' full names, and the names of grandparents, great-grandparents, godparents or spiritual mentors (if applicable), siblings, and any other close family members or friends to be honored or included in the ceremony. List the date, time, place, and address of the ceremony.
Excerpted from Bless This Child by Susanna Stefanachi Macomb Andrea Thompson Copyright © 2011 by Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb with Andrea Thompson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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