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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spiritual Devotion and Small Children

   I remember the days, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, when spiritual devotion was an easy, flowing thing. If I wanted to stop and pray, or make an offering, or meditate on something I had the flexibility to do so. If I wanted to spontaneously drive out to a state park or to the ocean, I got in my car and went. If I was invited to attend an event or a group celebration I went. the only limitation I had was my work schedule. My focus when I prayed or conducted a ritual was to make it as perfect as possible. I had scripts to follow and high expectations.
   And then, ten years ago, I had my first child, and all that changed. My schedule wasn't my own anymore because there was no telling an infant to wait until I was done or finding that still meditative place in myself with a fussy toddler pulling at my hand. My previous approach to spirituality had been based around my own internal rhythms and patterns; what worked for me and when I felt pulled to do things. I had a very spontaneous spirituality, even in my set devotional work. When I planned things I had time to prep for rituals, to go over exactly what I was going to do until I was sure it could be executed perfectly. But all of that changed when children were involved.
  There was a time when I chaffed a bit at the feeling of restriction, especially after my second child, who has several chronic medical issues, was born. The way I did things - the way I had done things for years and years at that point - suddenly had to be completely revised. It was a challenge, to be sure, but I believed from the beginning that it was vitally important that my children be included and that what I was doing be something they could also appreciate instead of something they would see taking my attention away from them.
  We learned together how to form an organic approach to devotion and ritual. I had to accept that the idea of perfect prayers, recited with my full attention on worship, were right out the window; with small children you always have some small part of your attention on them and what they are doing. My offerings became more creative and also simpler, and I grew to understand that the Gods and spirits want our best efforts, but our best efforts in that moment not perfection. I re-read the Carmina Gadelica seeing it not as a simple prayer book but as a record of a living tradition practiced by people just like me, mothers praying their devotion within the daily round of feeding their families, bathing their babies, and worrying about the safety of those they loved.
    I learned that it was better to try than not to do at all, even if the result was comical or rushed or interrupted. My devotional work became a study in perseverance, a type of devotion in its own way. If my morning prayers are interrupted by a hungry infant I sit down and nurse him and keep right on praying. If my Lughnasa ritual falls on an especially hot day then we celebrate inside so that my younger daughter can participate too without getting sick. We adapt, we work with what we have, and we give the Gods our best effort in that moment. Because I am sure the Gods and spirits - and I know for certain my ancestors - understand about hungry babies, and sick children, about life and human limitations.
Beltane 2013
   My reward for adopting this approach is not only being able to continue my devotional practice no matter how chaotic my life may be on any given day, but more importantly inspiring my children to want to do what I do. My oldest daughter came to me of her own accord and asked if we could start saying my night prayers together, so now we do them as a family. They look forward to each holiday as something fun they will participate in, and they are proud to be part of the traditions we celebrate. I look back at myself 20 years ago and I see someone who was free to totally devote herself to her religion; I realize now that I still have that freedom if I choose to see my circumstances as a gift and not a burden.

   Fragment 216 (modified)
As it was,
As it is,
As it shall be
O Ancient Gods
Of Skill!
With the ebb,
With the flow,
O Ancient Gods
Of Skill!
With the ebb,
With the flow.
  - based on material from the Carmina Gadelica volume 2

1 comment:

  1. I believe that it is important that children are brought up in the religious/spiritual traditions of their parents and that they be given solid foundations for the structure that they will make of thei. BTWr lives. I see so much of the opposite around me today that it is not only sad it is frightening. The amount of disconnection and disrespect in this society is just one aspect. BTW, your children are beautiful and I am sure they are just as beautiful on the inside as well.