Customized Baby Blessings | Traditions | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Customized Baby Blessings 

Beyond Baptism

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Two-thirds of the Nones said they believe in God (68 percent). More than half said they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58 percent), while more than a third classified themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious" (37 percent). One in five (21 percent) religiously unaffiliated adults said they pray every day.

Christopher and Jessica Griswold, who are among the unaffiliated describing themselves as "more spiritual than religious," wanted to celebrate the sacredness of the birth of their son, Jaxon. "It kind of felt empty without having some kind of ceremony that marked his coming into the world," says Jessica Griswold, who received Roman Catholic sacraments during childhood and adolescence. Her desire for a ceremony is not surprising, says White. "When you have kids you fall into patterns that you experienced when you were a kid," he says.

Christopher Griswold was skeptical when Jessica brought up the idea of a christening for Jaxon. "I said, 'You know we're not typical traditional people,'" he recalls. The couple turned to the Right Rev. Stuart B. Chernoff, also known as musician Studio Stu, to lead a nondenominational baby blessing ceremony instead. Chernoff is an ordained spiritual humanist cleric who officiated at the couple's wedding ceremony in Harriman State Park. "It's not that I don't believe in something, some sort of spiritual presence," Jessica says. "I just don't believe in a different god for every religion, or in a lot of the rules that come with churches."

The new parents were thrilled when Chernoff agreed to drive to their home in Centereach, Long Island, so they could have Jaxon's blessing in their backyard. "I create a ceremony based on the parents' beliefs," Chernoff says. "I don't think anyone should say something they don't believe in."

The officiant, who describes many of his clients as "more of the earth," says his ceremonies are often inspired by Celtic and pagan practices. "But it doesn't matter if somebody wants a more Christian or Jewish ceremony or an earthbound thing—I really gear it toward the individual."

Most traditional baptisms involve water, which many of Chernoff's clients request, he says. "So we often use the element of water—touch the hands, touch the heart, touch the feet," he says. "And there's specific invocations for each of those."

Like Chernoff's ceremonies, water is commonly used in baby blessings officiated by Rhianna Mirabello, owner of Dreaming Goddess in Poughkeepsie. "Water is cleansing and healing, although I don't ascribe to the 'cleansing of original sin piece,'" Mirabello says, noting the Christian rationale for baptism. "To bless and anoint with water is a powerful thing."

One family used Hudson River water in their baby's ceremony. "I discussed the qualities of the river—that it flows both ways—and I recited the Native American name for the river, Mahicantuck," Mirabello says.

A common thread among the "really personal" ceremonies at which she officiates is the desire of parents to include family and friends in the bestowing of prayers and blessings over the honoree, Mirabello says. "It's that idea of children entering into their tribe," she says. One ceremony focused on the stone jade to honor the name of the baby being blessed. Family members passed around a jade necklace and said prayers into the stone for Baby Jade. The necklace was gifted to her to be worn when she got older.

The milestones of marriage, having children, and becoming part of a community—typically reached by the mid-40s—historically meant an increase in religious identification. "It's kind of the old conventional wisdom that people become more religious as they get older," White says.

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