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Monday, May 07, 2012

Interfaith Naming Ceremony

One of the real joys of priesthood is the people you are called to serve.

Okay, some of the real challenges of priesthood is from the people you are called to serve.

So, let me restate that: One of the real joys of priesthood is helping and challenging people to see and celebrate God in their midst - especially when people have such diverse experiences and expressions of God. Even when some of those challenges fall right at your feet.

The most recent manifestations of that came this past weekend when I was part of an Interfaith Naming Ceremony.

Two years ago, I had the challenge and the joy of presiding at an Interfaith Wedding. The bride is Episcopalian (Italian and WASP) and the daughter of a dear friend. I've had the enormous privilege and delight of watching her grow up into a beautiful, caring, talented, generous young woman.  The groom is a near-perfect match for her. He's a solid, steady, loving, kind, intelligent young Jewish man (Peruvian on his mother's side).

You can find that wedding service here.  I called it "Under One Chuppah"

The challenge for this Naming Service was to find something that was neither a bris nor a baptism, but something which allowed the family to gather together and name that which is important in their lives. Those things include the mystery of love that brought these two wonderful people together and the love that both sides of the family now share which was created and is now embodied in the even deeper mystery of this wonderful, wiggly, spirited new human being.

No matter how you imagine God, it is not hard to imagine God's hand in all of this and God's presence in our midst.

The challenge was to find a liturgy that conveyed and celebrated those images and that mystery.

As I did for the Wedding, I'm going to try to reproduce much of the Naming Service here. The Rabbi read the beautiful Hebrew prayers from his prayer book, so I don't have them with me, but I do have the Outline of the Service and the prayers that were spoken by the parents, grandparents great grandparents and godparents.

Before I do that, I have to tell you about one wonderful thing that happened. The baby, an absolutely darling little boy, is now almost a year old. He had been battling a stomach virus all week and was not exactly 100%, poor little guy. He also happens to be the first grandchild on the mother's side and the first male grandchild on the father's side.

The child has no choice: He is a Little Prince. Oy!

He had also been passed around all morning from delighted relative to delighted relative and was so totally over all the delighted adults he just wanted to find some delight in his own life, in his own way, thank you very much.

After several attempts at trying to keep him still, his mother wisely put him down and just allowed him to crawl around on the floor by himself (When did this giggly young girl become a wise mother? Ah, yet another mystery of love).

The baby crawled out into the middle of the floor, right in front of where the Rabbi and I were standing. Suddenly, he pulled himself up on his knees and then, just as suddenly, he was up on his feet, wobbling like a drunken sailor.

As the room sucked in its breath, the little guy picked up one foot and then put it down. Then, he did it again. By the third and fourth time he repeated the action, it suddenly dawned on everyone that - lo and behold! - he was taking his first steps.

At that point, of course, everyone exhaled and made a joyful noise, some clapping their hands. The little guy suddenly looked up and realized that not only was everyone looking at him, but that he had a fan club. That absolutely knocked him off his feet and he sank on his backside like a stone.

You can't choreograph or script that! It was beyond perfection.

It became, for me, a wonderful metaphor for what a bris or a baptism tries to convey: Like it or not, we're all part of one family. Understand it or not, we're all part of one God.

Related or not, we're all part of one family whose job it is to love each other enough to allow us to explore our own lives, to make our own path, take a few halting steps on our own, cheer each other in our successes and be there for each other when we fall on our backsides.

Poet Robert Frost once said, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

I think that's what families are for. Strip away all the religious trappings, and that's really what a bris or a baptism is for. It's all about making a covenant with God and each other to create a family home here on earth until we're all finally home with God.

Beyond gender and religion and sexual orientation or race or class or physical or intellectual ability, in the final analysis, it really is love that makes a family.

So, here's the setting:

We asked each family to bring a candle which symbolized the spark of divine love which created each member and is now passed onto this new generation.

We set up one table with the two candles (they were both blue) and lit a small white candle to represent the members of the family who were not able to be with us, who had returned to The Light of Creation but always live on in our hearts.

On another table, we set up a loaf of callah bread and a pitcher of wine with some small, beautiful Jewish wine glasses.

The Rabbi wore his kippah and his prayer shawl. I wore my stole.

We opened with some words of explanation about what we would be doing together.

We asked the parents to light the two candles on the table and said prayers for those who had returned to the Source of all Life and Love and Light.

The Rabbi gave a special blessing for the baby in Hebrew. I followed, using a prayer which I adapted from the Baptismal Service in the Book of Common Prayer:
Holy, gracious and loving God, in whom we live and move and have our being, we thank you for the most precious gift of life. We especially thank you for the gift of life which you have given to this child _______, the parents who conceived him and the family which surrounds him in love. Help us always to remember that we are, each one of us, part of part of the human family and help us to respect and honor every human being, no matter our differences, and every part of your Creation. Sustain him, O God, by the gift of your Holy Spirit, to follow the prophetic call to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with you. Give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
The mother then came forward to explain the origin of the baby's English and Hebrew names.

Then, the mother gave a blessing:
Our God and the God of our ancestors, who art the source of all life, you have guided and sustained me through my pregnancy and my child's birth. With love, you have brought forth this child _____, and safely entrusted him to us.

May my body be healed and may it renew its cycles of growth and life once more. Grant me strength of body and spirit as I continue to nurture this child. May I learn always to cherish this precious and tender gift, on this day and every day to come.

We praise you, O Giver of Life.  Amen.
The father of the child then joined his wife and, holding their son, together said:
We are so happy. Our hearts are filled with joy for the child that has been entrusted to us. May we be always thankful and speak our thanks not with words alone, but with our love, understanding and tender care with which we hope to raise this child.

Be gracious to our child, that he may grow in strength of body, mind and spirit. May he learn to love all that is good and beautiful and true, and so live a life of blessing. May our child find his way in the path of life and accomplish many good deeds.

Give us, O God, wisdom, courage and faith, that we as parents will need to help our child become a strong, confident and loving person. Thank you and Amen.
The Rabbi then took his prayer shawl and draped it around the shoulders of the parents and their son.

Likewise, I took my stole and surrounded them with it. The Rabbi then said:

Ba-ruch a-ta ah-donai, eh-lo-hey-nu meh-lech ha-olam,
     Sheh-heh-chey-ya-nu, v'ki-y'ma-nu, v'he-ge-ah-nu la-z'man ha-zeh.

And I said:
We praise you, eternal God, sovereign of the universe, for giving us life,
     for sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day in our life. Amen.
It was then time to call up the grandparents, great grandparents and godparents who joined the parents and the baby and said this prayer:
Gracious God, Source of all life and joy: We are thankful for the privilege of parenthood which you have given to _______ and ______ (these parents). We are also grateful and jubilant that we will also have the honor and privilege to aid in the care and growth of this child.
We all seek thy divine guidance in rearing and guiding this child as he grows up. We pray that he be blessed with health of body and wisdom of mind. Protect him from danger and guide his steps through the years. Grant that _________ may grow up to be faithful and loyal and a source of joy to his parents, grandparents, great grandparents and Godparents.  Amen.

The mother then took the callah bread and, as instructed by the Rabbi, cut of an end piece. Ah, he said, you have broken off the 'male' end of the bread which means that the next child you have will also be a boy. (He said this with a decided twinkle in his eye, so I think he totally made that up, but it seemed to make the paternal grandfather especially happy, so what the heck I guess, right?)

The mother then ate the piece of bread and shared it with her husband and son. Her husband then started to pour the wine into the little glasses and together, they distributed the bread and wine to everyone in the gathering who said, "Mazel Tov" before eating and drinking.

There were a few other, closing prayers in Hebrew by the Rabbi. I thanked everyone for coming and asked that the parents and grandparents sign the Naming Certificate.

It being May 5th - Cinco de Mayo - and, since the paternal grandmother is Peruvian (former RC, converted to Judaism) - there followed an amazing feast which started with bagels and lox and coffee, then moved to some incredible deep fried yucca and cheese sauce, which was followed by lots of sangria and margheritas, which was followed by chicken and steak fajitas with guacamole that simply knocked your socks off. Oh, and more sangria and margheritas.

The whole event was topped off with an amazing chocolate birthday cake - a little early but the whole family was there, so why not? - and, representing the Italian side of the family, there were these dulce de leche cookies that would have knocked Caesar himself on his backside.

No, the service was not a bris. No, it was not a baptism. No, it wasn't distinctly Jewish. No, it wasn't distinctly Christian.  I suppose the Rabbi is used to being criticized for partaking in these kinds of services. I completely expect there will be those who are reading this who think I've totally sold out and failed miserably at a priest.

So be it.  I can't be responsible for what others think - or think they know. As the folks in Thailand say, "Up to you."

Here's what I know: I was part of something that was bigger than both Synagogue and Church. It was bigger than a Rabbi and a Priest. It was about being faithful to God who creates us in our unique peculiarities and we, in turn, are reflections of the deep mystery that is God.  It was about creating a family of God from these two different families and, in so doing, catching a glimmer of the Realm of God.

I'll just repeat what I said at the beginning of this post: One of the real joys of priesthood is helping and challenging people to see and celebrate God in their midst - especially when people have such diverse experiences and expressions of God.

Even when some of those challenges fall right at your feet.


David said...

'It was about being faithful to God who creates us in our unique peculiarities and we, in turn, are reflections of the deep mystery that is God'
l.e. is God who is the source of all blessing- each in their uniqueness, our job is to witness and say 'Amen' n'est ce pas?

Reverend Thomas Brackett said...


Thank you for posting this beautiful resource - I find it inspiring and I'd like to pass it on.



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - Mais oui!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thomas - Absolutely. Good liturgy is not about recreating the wheel but putting your own spit on something old and polishing it up for today.

JCF said...

Mazel Tov & Alleluia!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Anonymous said...

Quite excellent. Most of all I love the way that you've avoided any embarrassment of a genuinely interfaith service by excising all mention of that annoying interloper Jesus. This way it's credibly Jewish and Christian.

Oh, wait...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Please leave your name next time or I won't print your response which I did so I can respond to it.

I don't think you have to mention the name of Jesus in order for a service to be authentically interfaith. I am there as a representative of Jesus. I am a powerful symbol of His presence. Symbols have way more power than words. Way more. I don't have to "lord it over" my Jewish brothers and sisters in order to have that power.

Matthew said...

We need more ceremonies like this. Jewish-Christian couples face many obstacles and our churches and synagogues are mostly impossible for the couple as a whole. A Jewish person does not want to sit in a church and hear a sermon about evangelism, mission, making disciples because they feel that there is something wrong with them if they don't want to convert and get baptized and are quite ambivalent about Christianity in general. Christians in a synagogue often feel that they don't fit in culturally and that to fit in, they also need to convert. I suspect that is why so many of them that I know end up in the Unitarian church. There, they find a place they can both go to, and both have ownership in and the message is more or less respectful to both. But actual Christians and Jews (such as yourself and the rabbi) also need to be willing to build bridges.