Friday, September 4, 2009

Baptizing the Sons and Daughters of Life

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you, but come not from you. Though they are with you they belong not to you.” Gibran

Next time your kid is having a tantrum in a busy store, turn to the people around you and say, “He’s not mine. He doesn’t belong to me. He’s the son of life. If you’ve got a problem, take it up with life.” Today we celebrate all sons and daughters of life.

As a parent, I sometimes wonder if I am learning anything. After three kids, you’d think I might have learned something. As Phyllis Diller said, “We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.” Parenting changes with each child. For example:

Preparing for the Birth -
1st baby: You practice your breathing religiously.
2nd baby: You don’t bother practicing because you remember that last time, breathing didn’t do a thing.
3rd baby: You start the epidural 4 weeks before the due date.

Going Out -
1st baby: The first time you leave your baby with a sitter, you call home 5 times.
2nd baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a number where you can be reached.
3rd baby: You leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood.

At Home -
1st baby: You spend part of every day just gazing at your baby.
2nd baby: You spend part of every day watching to be sure your older child isn’t squeezing, poking, or hitting the baby.
3rd baby: You spend part of every day hiding from all three children.

In all seriousness, being a parent to my three children is one of the great joys of my life. Watching each of them grow into their own divine becoming is a privilege and a joy. They teach me and inspire me in so many ways. My kids are one of the ways that God remains anonymous in the world. I learn something about divine love.

Baptism- Keeping Life in Perspective

Baptism is a beautiful practice. It is a reminder to keep life in perspective. When you hold a baby, life’s worries just melt away. It can all wait. When your child is sick or in pain it breaks your heart and you would give up all that you own, and all that you ever worked for, to take their pain away. Dave Barry once said, “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.”

The baptism ceremony is a reminder to all of us, kids or no kids, that human life is held in the tender embrace of a village which in turn is intimately related to a universal life force. Many cultures have unique practices to celebrate baptism. One of my favorites is from the African Mandinka tribe in Gambia. Alex Haley brought many of their beautiful practices and legends to life in his famous novel Roots. The Mandinka people treasure children and use a naming ceremony to honor children. On the eighth day of life, a newborn is brought to the village center. The mother holds the child before the father who whispers the name in the baby’s ear three times. No one else knows the name at this time. The child is the first to hear their name, the first to know who they are. Then the father takes the child out beyond the village gates, holds the child high above his head and tells the child, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.”

In the context of Roots, this is particularly powerful. Children will face so many people and situations that will attempt to strip them of their identity; whether its racism or gender stereotyping or bullying. Baptism is a reminder to all of us that every child is precious and valuable and has a right to self expression.

Think of your own divine becoming as a young child to be named and nurtured. Baptism is a reminder to raise your divine essence and say to the sky, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.”

Your divine essence connects you to a life force that is beyond words, beyond any self limiting beliefs, beyond religious traditions, greater than any crisis. It is joyful. Rumi said, “When you live from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” It is the self in community with all things. Behold, the only thing greater than you is you in community with all things.

Water and Baptism

I was sitting in church one day, watching a baptism from the front pew with my three kids. The minister was pouring water on the head of a tiny baby. My three year old son was quite taken by this, and I could see that something profound was brewing. With a puzzled look on his face, he turned to me and asked: “Dada, why is he brainwashing that baby?”

Well you could be forgiven for wondering. Baptism in a lot of churches seems a little like a brainwashing. Families have to jump through hoops, say that they believe in all sorts of unbelievable things and then agree that the baby will also believe them as soon as the baby is old enough to believe anything. Baptism was never meant to be about beliefs or being accepted into the club. It was intended to be a ceremony of inclusion, not exclusion. Baptism was a practice Christians borrowed from the Jewish tradition and from pagan water ceremonies.

One of the reasons baptism was introduced into Christianity was to expand the Jewish practice of circumcision to include girls and non Jews. It was only much later that some Christians started talking about ‘original sin’ and using baptism as a way to brainwash parents out of fear of what would happen to their children if they weren’t baptized.

We use water in baptism because water is a universal life force. Baptism is about inclusion. The ocean refuses no river, and nor should any church refuse any person for baptism. Baptism is not about what you need to believe or don’t believe. The ocean demands nothing of the river and simply merges with it at the right time. So it should be in baptism. Baptism is not about brainwashing. It is about washing away all that keeps you separate from God and all that is.

Water is a symbol of the flow of life. Each child is a mirror of nature. Water makes up over 70% of the human body, roughly the same percentage as water in the surface of the earth. The human cocktail of tissue and membrane, sweat and tears, mirrors nature’s recipe. Our blood even contains the same proportion of salt as the ocean. It is more than metaphor to say that we are one with the earth. Human life and nature are each other’s mirrors. Baptism water is a reminder that we are not separate from the flow of life, even if we convince ourselves at times that we are. So much of our anxiety about the recession, about the health of our kids, about the earth, comes from a false belief that we are separate. When despair grows in you, come back to the symbol of baptism, rest in the flow of water that doesn’t imagine future disasters but moves with grace and peace in the eternal present.

There is a Japanese story that makes the point well. The Japanese tea master Rikyu built a teahouse on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. Three guests arrived, expecting to see an amazing ocean panorama. When they arrived, they were disappointed to find that the view was completely blocked by trees. They stopped at the entrance to wash at the traditional water basin. They bent down to draw water with a bamboo ladle, when they noticed an opening in the trees that could only be seen from the stooped position. In the humble posture of the bow, with water flowing from ladle to hands, they were greeted by the most spectacular view of the ocean. In gratitude and humility, they celebrated the connection between the basin water and the ocean. They knew they were not separate. They bowed for several moments, lost in the wonder of the connection.

Water, Flow and Perspective

This connection is so easy to lose when you become anxious. We live in difficult times. The deep recession of the past months has challenged our priorities once again. When life is difficult, it’s so easy to lose perspective and allow your anxiety to delude you into living with separateness. The oceanic acceptance of your divine essence is so much deeper than the deepest recession, and the heaviest anxiety.

I understand that domestic abuse and shaken baby syndrome have risen as the recession deepened this year. Milwaukee had a 40% increase in homicides related to domestic violence in the first half of this year. Several hospitals around the country have reported that shaken baby cases have doubled this year compared to last year.

Parents certainly need to take responsibility for their actions. However part of the cause is our culture of separateness, where people feel so alone without the false comforts of financial security. If we had nurtured a culture that placed the highest priority on human relationships as a mirror of nature, then we might have avoided some of the anxiety that manifested as violence.

Baptism is a reminder that we are all connected.

Baptism is a reminder that all things change, and that even crises end. But your divine essence remains strong throughout.

Baptism is a reminder that the ocean refuses no river.

The little ones in your life are the rivers that are part of you, and if you know they are part of you, you could never harm them.

Water is Our Teacher

A physicist, biologist and chemist stood on the sand before the ocean. The physicist was awestruck. He wanted to measure the dynamics of the water so he walked straight out into the ocean and was never seen again. The biologist was fascinated by the life beneath the water. He walked out into the ocean to examine it and was never seen again. The chemist, meanwhile, stood on the beachfront with a pad and pencil. After a few minutes, he made a note on the pad that said: “physicists and biologists dissolve in water.”

Water is awesome, and has both life giving and life destroying powers. It flows with the tide. May you flow with life, and know that even the choppiest surf eventually subsides. The tide of your crises eventually goes out.

We use only small amounts of water at baptism. This is a reminder that human life is a ripple in a pond, a drop of water in a universal ocean. Every child, and the child within all, is a drop of humanity ensconced in an incredible ocean of divine love, moving freely and flowing with life.

Above you are the stars. Beneath you is the earth. Within and around you are the waters of life. Like the stars may your love be constant. Like the earth, may your life be grounded. Like the waters of life, may you know that you are never alone and are flowing in a beautiful stream of divine becoming. Namaste.


Ghazal said...

very inspiring....the physicist and chemist story had a point for me

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