Sunday, February 3, 2008

Start 'em Young!

Every once in a while something comes across my desk which is such a delight that I can't leave it unshared.  This week I got an email like that from a friend in Ithaca, whom I got to know in my recent Cornell work.  She is a very accomplished musician and she has a 2 year old daughter named Sabina whom I have known since she was just barely born.  She writes:

"I thought you would get a kick out of knowing that Sabina's new favorite book is the Monastic Breviary! While I had sung Compline by myself frequently while pregnant and a bit when she was very small, I have mostly been doing my devotions alone and quietly until last week. Sabina seemed a little restless before an afternoon nap so I pulled the Breviary off the shelf and chanted Diurnum. She was enthralled and now picks up the Breviary asking for "more stories"! Her favorite is Compline, though, which we have been singing every night. She is even learning some of the responses and will make up her own. This morning she sang her version of Matins to her sleepy parents: she would sing a few "verses" ending with "Mama" or "Papa" or "Bina" (I'm guessing these were intentional prayers), flip through a few pages and sing some more, flip through a few more pages and after a few more repetitions, end with "Ah ni Com-pleen".

She'll be 2 at the end of February. How soon should I sign her up to become an oblate? ;) "

Imagine growing up known what Compline is! And not only knowing what it is but how it sounds. Imagine not having to discover later that there are such things as Offices and that they can be part of a spiritual path. This story is not only delightful to me but also wondrous and provocative and encouraging. The spirituality of 2 year olds seems to flourish pretty naturally if allowed to.

What do you remember of the discovery the part of your life that grew to be your faith? I remember how itchy wool pants were (they were only worn to Church on Sunday). And I remember that I complained but didn't think of rebelling because there was a feeling about walking into the church that was different from anything else in my life. (All this comes the time when I was learning to tie my shoes, so it is pretty early.) I remember the little individual communion cups and feeling really sad that I couldn't drink one because I wasn't baptized (I was raised in the Baptist Church and was baptized when I was 16. And yes, I remember how fulfilling it was the first time that the plate full of little cups came by and I could take one.

But most of all I remember my first allowance, and I remember it well enough that it is one of my foundational stories. When I got old enough that it was agreed that I should have an allowance (and be expected to do chores around the house)the amount was set at 10 cents. I know it sounds ludricrous now, but at the time it was quite an adequate amount for a small boy. I certainly had ideas about what I would do with my own money, and movies and candy bars were at the top of the list. A date was set for the first payment and when it came my father made something of a ceremony of it. I still remember the solemnity of the occasion when the money was handed over, and to my surprise, it wasn't the dime I was expecting; it was 10 pennies. "I'm giving it to you this way" my father said,"so that you can put one of the pennies aside for the collection on Sunday." I remember the awesome feeling: I was now old enough to do what the adults did, and old enough to know that having my own money meant having an obligation to be generous.

When I was 13 the allowance went up to 50 cents, a consequence of the movie prices being raised when one reached that age. And of course the contribution to the Sunday Collection went up to 5 cents. By that time it was part of me; I enjoyed the feeling of putting the money in the plate when it came around. My life-long sense that part of the point of money is that it is not only my obligation but my joy to be generous, was well settled by then. And it has stayed with me all these years. I still have an allowance - we include in our budget a certain amount of money for each member of the community to have for personal expenses, and I still give 10 percent of it to a cause that I am particularly concerned with. That early foundational experience is a permanent part of my place in the world, and part of my tie to the Divine.

What are your memories of an unfolding spirituality? Most people have them, though they sometimes need help in reaching back to them. My Aunt used to tell of remembering being small enough that she was led by the hand to the Episcopal Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and snuggled up close to her grandfather's side and heard the music and smelled the incense, which seemed wondrous to her at the time. I know people for whom the sight of the sky or of a poor person opened the depths of life to them. I know people of no formal faith tradition at all who remember an early sense that I would clearly call spiritual. It's a part of us, and it unfolds early and it grows with us. Some people learn to nurture it and some don't. Some of us discover it much later on and then have a lot of catching up to do. But it comes from within, from those depths where God resides at the center of us.

I treasure the stories of Sabrina and the Breviary, and my of Aunt and the incense and of me and my pennies. They are one of the ways I am settled in God and nourished and guided by God. They draw me back to the deepest level of what is real.

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