This content was originally posted on WrapsodyBaby.com, a website and babywearing business formerly owned by the author.
One of my favorite Unitarian Universalist hymns is, I suppose, not a piece of literature my poetry professors would have held up as an example. If it were a dish at a restaurant, it would under the “salad” section, I think, of the type, “metaphors of Mother Earth.” Alternatively, if it were a book summary, for me, it would be titled, “Things I Want My Child to Learn.” Kimberly French summarized my own feelings about the lyrics beautifully in the magazine UU World,
“In six short lines ‘Spirit of Life’touches so much that is central to our faith—compassion, justice, community, freedom, reverence for nature, and the mystery of life. It finds the common ground held by humanists and theists, pagans and Christians, Buddhists and Jews, gay and straight among us.”
As I’ve worked on our new wrap and ring sling designs “Namaka” and “Zoe,” which are inspired by a merging of the birth of life in the ocean and the tree of life on land, I’ve reflected on this hymn and the many reasons I love it. My youngest child now is 3 and my oldest is 16. The eldest will graduate next year, and I am filled with the bittersweet joy of watching children grow toward adulthood. I thought I might offer them this letter.
A letter to my children or, things I want my child to learn
Here are the things I hope our life has taught you before you leave home, inspired by the hymn you’ve sung since you were a baby.[In italics are the lyrics to “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade.]
Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Be reverent. Know that the universe is larger and more complex than you will ever understand. Reach for life with both hands and with your whole heart.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Live with compassion, and avoid a sense of sympathy. Understand that all creatures are valuable, that all people began as tiny, helpless infants, even you. Fight for equality from an innate sense that it is what *must* be, not from a sense that you’re doing it simply to help someone else.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
The world will move you, child. There will be gentle breezes and torrential winds, riptides and whirlpools and gently meandering currents. Your job is to learn to ride them, to steer yourself, or to hold on tight and stay safe when it’s necessary. Know that sometimes, life is out of your control.
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
On the other hand, sometimes it is for YOU to play a part in the Spirit of things. Pray with your heart if you feel moved. Speak kind and uplifting words when you can. But remember always that the best way to pray is with your hands and feet. Even when the currents of wind and sea feel out of your control, you can reach out your hands to the Spirit, the Spirit of yourself, to God, of life, of the Universe, and choose the way you shape them.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Of course, my child, I want you to feel rooted by the Earth, by Family, by Love — remember that a strong tree has hidden supports that spread far beyond where you might imagine, and you, too, are rooted in ways that will surprise you, supported by the soil of a thousand souls … the flowers, the bark, the insects, the pets that have passed and the pets still with us, the friends, the neighbors, your siblings and grandparents, and even the lives on the other side of the planet that you may never meet — together, we form the soil that holds us upright even during those storms, my child.
Yet, I also want you to leap like birds from a branch, knowing that the strength of your metaphorical wings can carry you and direct you along the winds, free to soar to where you’d like to go, to make the impact I know that you will, and to find the direction that feels most nourishing to your spirit.
My child, I hope that your life is one of mixed metaphor, that you are never held by the theme of a poem or an idea, that you cast about and change directions and take chances even when it might not make sense. Of course, my love, be safe. But be you. Because you are a part of this Earth, both the tree and the bird and so much more, trading electrons and energy and ideas everywhere you stand, sit, crawl, or sleep.
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.
My child, you are both the Tree of Life itself and also a branch, a bit of bark, a ring in the clock of life, a strand in the root, a leaf in the wind.
You are a coral reef, a cell in the wall of a huge habitat, the tiny coral that builds the habitat, the fish that eat the coral and the water that keeps it moist.
Embrace the world, child. Reach for life …. remember how big you are and yet how small, and be in awe. And of course, please always remember to come home to me from time to time.
With all my heart,
For more reading:
Tree of Life entry on Wikipedia — remarkably well-referenced and interesting
Carolyn McDade’s Spirit of Life: Unitarian Universalism’s most beloved song, the woman who wrote it, and the communities that sustain her spirit – Feature article in UU World by Kimberly French