Baby Blessing: A Secular Celebration of New Life
I still remember my baptism. I remember the pastor putting water on my head, and the fancy dress I got to wear. I was just over three, and my sister and cousin were baptized with me as babies. Off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you the denomination of the church we were baptized in. As a kid my family were sort of equal opportunity protestants, attending Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Born Again, I even remember going into a Greek Orthodox church once and marveling at the beautiful art. My grandparents were the driving force behind all the church as a kid, though my parents were the ones who brought us. My parents don’t really identify as Christian; if you ask my mom she’s “neo-pagan” and my dad “likes Buddhism” and strongly identifies with our Celtic ancestors worship of the movements of our sun. The most consistent spiritual practice I have had in many years was a number of years back when my roommates led a weekly Kirtan in our home; a practice of beautiful singing in Sanskrit of call and response chants to different Hindu deities. My husband was raised by one agnostic parent and one atheist parent, and he loves watching Christopher Hitchens videos on YouTube. We sporadically attend celebrations of the solstices and equinoxes led by modern-day druids at the stone circle near our home, when the weather isn’t miserable. This is all to say, when I was pregnant with our son, and we talked about how to celebrate him and welcome him to the world, there was no clear tradition that made sense for us to turn to.
So, as one does in times of uncertainty, we turned to the internet. Searches for “secular
baptism” came up with a few things, and we started to cobble together our ideas for what we came to call a Baby Blessing. As we had with our wedding ceremony a few years prior, we worked together to pull from traditions that spoke to us, and made up a few of our own. When he was four months old we held a small potluck gathering of friends and a few family members at an apartment with a back garden patio in upper Manhattan, since my husband is from there and many of the involved parties were New Yorkers. Since space was limited and not all of our family would have been comfortable with our non-Christian ceremony, we didn’t worry about trying to invite everyone, especially since most family had already met our son. It was kind of his New York debut.
Since I had a hard time finding many examples of secular baby welcoming ceremonies, I would love to share the text with you from our own for your inspiration. This isn’t the complete text, as our friend (the Kirtan leader) who officiated had some words of his own on the spot that day, but this gives you a good idea of what happened.
Patrick: We have come this day in April to rejoice in life, and to welcome the life bound up in this child. We have come together to notice each other and give thanks for the roles we play in each other’s lives, and in the life of this child. (statement from Patrick, written by him, explaining his role in our lives)
Patrick (to Scott & Jill): My friends, what name have you given this child?
Scott: Monroe (middle and last name removed for privacy)
Patrick (lights a candle): We light this candle for Monroe, may his light shine now, and all the days of his life. In his four short months Monroe has already shown us his great love for the water, visual art, and music, as well as his incredible strength and determination. We will now hear two blessings from two of the ancient tribes that Monroe descends from. The first is a Celtic blessing, read by Monroe’s Aunt. The second is a Jewish blessing, read by our gracious host Ariel.
May the strength of the wind and the light of the sun,
The softness of the rain and the mystery of the moon
Reach you and fill you.
May beauty delight you and happiness uplift you,
May wonder fulfil you and love surround you.
May your step be steady and your arm be strong,
May your heart be peaceful and your word be true.
May you seek to learn, may you learn to live,
May you live to love, and may you love – always.
In every birth, blessed is the wonder.
In every creation, blessed is the new beginning.
In every child, blessed is life.
In every hope, blessed is the potential.
In every transition, blessed is the beginning.
In every existence, blessed are the possibilities.
In every love, blessed are the tears.
In every life, blessed is the love.
There are three names by which a person is called:
One which her father and mother call her,
And one which people call her,
And one which she earns for herself.
The best one of these is the one that she earns or herself.
Patrick: We now call upon Casey and Shannon to come forward and make their vow to perform the role of guide-parents to Monroe, a role Scott and Jill are honored they have accepted.
(To Casey & Shannon): “Scott and Jill trust your motivations completely and they take comfort in knowing that although there will be times when Monroe cannot come to them,
that he will always be able to come to you for guidance and support.
By accepting the role of guide-parent you say to Monroe and the world
I promise, I will be there for you as you grow into manhood.
With this in mind I now ask you…
Will you as best as you can, help take care of Monroe?
To encourage, guide and support him in all his endeavors,
Help him recognize the beauty within himself and all things,
And to become some day not the man we wish for him to be, but the realization of his own hopes, dreams and the fulfillment of his soul?”
Casey & Shannon: “We will.”
Casey: You have already been introduced to Monroe’s aunt, but as Jill nor Scott were born with any brothers, they call upon Ian to take up the title of “Uncle Ian” to Monroe.
Scott: (My husband came up with some really nice vows about fostering creativity and humor and being there for our son, but he’s an off the cuff kind of guy so I don’t have them here. )
Ian: I will
Patrick: At this time, Jill and Scott have asked me to share the set of guiding principles they drafted for their family while on their honeymoon.
With the addition of Monroe, these principles now shine as a beacon, a guide for the hard work and play of parenting.
-We live a fun and active life; through our actions and intentions, we create magic.
-We seek truth and communicate with engaged and compassionate honesty.
-We remain present in our environment and seek stillness to perceive and appreciate it.
-We exercise patience in allowing ideas, emotions, and situations to reach a point of fullness or transformation.
-We permit ourselves to assume the best and perceive the value of others, leave room for healthy doubt and inquiry, acknowledging the incomplete nature of our understanding.
-We take responsibility for our actions and their impact on others, as well as our physical and emotional health. In this pursuit, we allow ourselves to be cared for by others when needed.
-We move forward with bravery; we try new things, we explore and expand our world, we do our best to do what is right, and we share what we’ve gained by doing so.
-We are vigilant in seeking opportunities to give gifts with our actions.
-Through these principles we collaborate and contribute to the growth of our dynamic family.
Scott and Jill, do you promise to do your best live by these principles as you raise Monroe, looking to them as a guidepost that will keep you on a path you are happy to travel with your son?
Scott and Jill: We do
Patrick: We close with words of wisdom from the great humanist author Kurt Vonnegut: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
So that was our ceremony. We didn’t mail invitations. We didn’t really spend any money except on a beautiful candle that sits on our family altar now. It was just a time of embracing our chosen family, and welcoming our son to the human race. Here are a few of the resources that helped inspire our ceremony.