Finding God in the Heart of Your Family
by Mary Kretzmann
Chapter 6: Prayer and Devotion
Prayer invoking the presence of God, Christ, Guru:
Divine Mother, Heavenly Father,
Dearest Friend, Beloved God,
Lord Jesus Christ, Babaji-Krishna, Lahiri Mahsaya, Swami Sri Yukteswarji,
Beloved Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda
Saints and Sages of all religions, we humbly bow to you all.
May Thy Love shine forever on the sanctuary of our devotion,
And may we be able to awaken Thy Love In all hearts.
Aum, Peace, Amen.
A few months after our youngest son, David, turned three, he came to our bedroom early one morning looking for me. Because he was so little and couldn’t see out the windows, I knew he hadn’t yet realized that there was a blanket of snow making everything outside magical and white. As I heard his little feet approaching, I lay very still, hiding place under the covers, peeking to see his reaction to this visual delight of a winter wonderland. Upon entering the room, he stopped short in front of our sliding glass door, seeing this beautiful scene for the first time in well over a year. He was quiet and awestruck, and then he put his hands together in a prayer, and said in his child’s mispronunciation, “Divine Mudder, heavenly Fawdder,” etc… and he stumbled through all of the names of the gurus (above) valiantly (“Hiri shashashaya” for example). Finally, at the end of the prayer he concluded, “I love you. AUM, Peace, Amen.”
He was a very active little boy, and up until that moment I wasn’t quite sure if our spiritual efforts with him were having any effect at all, and now I saw this wonderful response to God’s beauty! It really struck me because he had never seen us respond outwardly in prayer to the gifts of God’s beauty, and yet now this sprang from his heart. (Though, I realize, our prayers at the children’s bedtimes often expressed gratitude to God for the blessings in our lives…) Reflecting upon this, I realized it was a fascinating mental and spiritual leap that he made that day. He saw snow, and was stuck by the wonder and the beauty of it, and then knew by some childlike intuition that praying to God and the Masters was the appropriate channel to address his gratitude to the unseen Creator of the snow.
We had made it a part of our bedtime ritual to say this prayer with the children ever since they were quite young, even before they could speak complete sentences. We simply prayed it aloud, quietly, lovingly, after tucking them in. The children could sense the reverence as we prayed this prayer every night with them, whether they mumbled along or not. Indeed, each of them went through a phase around age four when they would let us know they did not want to do the prayer anymore. We would reply, “That’s fine. Just listen quietly, and with love in your heart, while I pray.”
They seemed satisfied with that. After a few months of quietly listening, they would simply and naturally join in, as though nothing had ever happened, and we never felt that resistance again. I believe it was some sort of independence streak normal to four-year-old children.
This has been such an important part of awakening in the children love for God, Christ, guru, and saints of all religions, that I have dedicated an entire chapter later in this book. But I mention it here to emphasize the point that the stories serve not only the purpose of spiritual knowledge, but they are an important avenue to keep the presence of God in the child’s daily thoughts and feelings. As we feed their bodies every day; so we also need to feed their souls.
Along the same line, we have kept a picture of Paramhansa Yogananda, and our line of gurus, near the beds of our children even since they were infants. Babies and young children truly are old souls in little bodies, so it is very possible that they will receive some benefit from gazing at that holy face in the natural course of failing to sleep and waking up each day. Give them the normal playthings, of course, but do not limit them to only those things.
Eventually, each child had a small bedside altar. This became an easy place to do simple prayers and a short mediation before bed.
We also keep a large, beautifully framed photograph of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Mother in our home, as an embodiment of the presence of Divine Mother. Those sacred eyes have blessed me many times in the normal ups and downs of life. Yogananda said, later in his life, that she was a liberated saint, a free soul. Her example of spiritual motherhood offers a high beacon of inspiration.
Devotion and faith come from within, but the wise parent can help to awaken these soul tendencies within each child. We have all lived many lives, and it is extremely likely that your children have lived recent past lives in which they were somehow devoted to God and truth. This can be deduced simply from the fact that the child has the karma to currently have a parent who is reading this book, and who is interested in spiritual concerns in general!
Each child is an individual, and this must be kept in mind in this earliest spiritual training; however, much of their individuality will show itself in how they respond to this process. Your child’s individuality will help you to refine the process accordingly, but you won’t have to create an extremely individualized approach at this young age. This earliest phase is very general, and is meant simply to awaken seeds of spirituality from the past, and to set good habits for this lifetime. A child with pronounced spiritual inclinations will respond in such a way that encourages you to increase or deepen certain aspects of some of these efforts.
It is my firm belief that every child can be reached, but the parent must lead the way. For instance, if an older child seems more inspired by science than by devotion, tell him many things about the infinity of space, and look for stories and quotes of scientific minds who also stood in awe of that infinity. Years ago I saw a very inspiring poster of Albert Einstein in which his eyes were deep with his contemplation of energy and infinity. Once that resonance and interest in infinity is recognized in the child, the parent could gradually help the child to appreciate more spiritual perspective of Infinity, finding quotes and prayers that emphasize that aspect of God. This principle can be applied to any type of child, if the parent believes it is worth the effort. For instance, a children who love animals could gradually be helped to understand and feel the essence of compassion that flows through their affection for the animals, etc.
I want to emphasize that this is an area in which we have been less systematic. Meditation practice needs careful, loving attention if you want to include it in your children’s lives. What has worked for us is to sit at the family altar with one or more of our children, light a candle, chant and pray to God, and then lead a short meditation. Kids usually need something to do, such as watch the breath, or watch the candle flame, or even gaze at the photo and look into the eyes of Paramhansa Yogananda or Christ, etc. We have always let the youngest child present be the one to chant AUM to end the meditation. In this way, the children do not develop a resentment of meditation, nor do they learn to “fake it.” If we sensed that one of the older kids was ready to stretch into a longer meditation, we would meditate with him or her alone once the little one was in bed.
A wonderful memory of a meditation with my daughter when she was age eight comes to mind. She and I sat at her altar, one evening, as described above. I expected that she might chant AUM after several minutes, but when I peeked at her, she seemed absorbed in the meditation. This was ideal – that she wanted to continue the meditation because she was really getting something from it. Seeing that, I let myself go deeper. That meditation went on for about 30 minutes, and the blessings in my heart lingered through the evening. There were other meditations, of course, but I believe that was the first time that one of our kids led us into a relatively longer meditation (from a child’s point of view).
I must emphasize that we never sent the kids off, saying, “It’s time for you to go meditate.” I’ve heard of that in other families, but it seemed very risky to me for several reasons, mainly that they could quickly learn to resent the parents, God and meditation all at once! Children love quality time with their parents, and they will more easily receive meditative practices if you are with them in the process.
This can be taken quite far, if your family life allows for it. For instance, a wonderful devotee family lived near Ananda years ago. The father home-schooled their three children while his wife worked at the public high school. Her steadfastness as the breadwinner allowed her husband to be with their children, who were all fairly close in age. Their father started their day together with yoga postures followed by meditation. Later they had their home school lessons. The eyes of their children were joyful and sparkling. They adored their father (and their mother) and received much from him as parent and teacher. It was clear that he was doing a very good job of it. Unfortunately, he died an untimely death at age fifty from a massive heart attack, and this changed the family circumstances considerably. The regular yoga and meditation practice for the children could not be maintained in the new single-parent status of the home. The mother still needed to work and support the family, as she had cheerfully done for all those years. It had been a true partnership. At first the children attended Ananda School and later went on to the public high school. Those early years in which the father gave them such a spiritual foundation are still a part of them, and those seeds may bear fruit in later years.
Early on, we taught our children how to do simple healing prayers for others. Usually it might be for friends in school, relatives, pets, or injured birds, etc. Normally we do the “Divine Mother Prayer,” below:
Divine Mother, Thou art Omnipresent, Thou art in all Thy children. Thou art in (name). Manifest Thy healing presence in his/her body, mind and soul.
Rub the hands together and then lift them up and chant AUM three times, while sending this healing energy to the person.
For very young children, we would rephrase it slightly, such as, “Divine Mother, You are everywhere”…. etc.
It has been very helpful to do “hands-on” healing prayers on the children from time to time. This has been especially helpful for earaches, and belly-aches and “heartaches.” The mother’s touch is very healing for her children. Sometimes, when they had a bad dream, I put them back to bed, placing my hand over the child’s heart. Then I would guide them in a healing, saying, “See Master or Christ sitting in your heat center, full of light… Feel His love filling you and surrounding you… Know that God and the Masters are always with you….”
I would continue in this way, visualizing this light filling the child. Soon the child would let out a deep sigh, letting the tension go.
We also use these healing prayers at special family times, such as birthdays. During the course of the family party, perhaps before presents, we’ll take a few moments to give special appreciation to the person, and then to do a healing prayer, visualizing the person surrounded in light, and then we send three AUMS. The children and the adults all receive this birthday blessing. In fact, at Ananda, this is included in many birthday parties for young and old alike. Children do settle down long enough to give this blessing to their friends, because they know how good it feels to receive it. However, if your child’s friends would find this quite odd, then certainly don’t embarrass the child; save the sacred blessing to do in a quiet moment with the family. And by the time the kids were teens, this practice was often set aside in the name of being cool, but we would still do it quietly as a family.
Over the years, because of my role in the Ananda Healing Prayer Ministry, my children have grown accustomed to the fact that I will receive urgent prayer requests that need immediate attention. Even when they were fairly young, I would ask them to stop playing for a few minutes and to help me pray for the person in need. We would sit on the couch and do the “Divine Mother Prayer.” Their compassion gave them the ability to do this, and to stay focused for a few minutes. When I could feel their concentration waver, I told them it was okay to get up and play quietly, but to please let Mom pray just a little bit longer. I found this worked much better than if I had gone off to my room to pray for a few minutes, because they had been part of the prayer, and it was easier for them to respect what I was doing. They would tend to play quietly while I prayed, and then finally I would get up, thank them, and life went back to normal.
Even as our children entered the teen years, they have asked for healing energy when there is a physical or emotional need. Granted, spiritual healing is an avenue of service in my life anyway, so this is a natural way for me to share with my family, but I offer this here for those who may be able to apply this in their own lives as well. And, of course, any devotee parent can pray for his or her child in the quiet privacy of one’s meditation room.
Praying for the future spouses of the children
Ideally, God’s presence, blessings and guidance should enter into every significant aspect of life and parenthood, and one special application of healing prayers is to occasionally to pray for the future spouses of the children. We have done this long before they would have ever had a chance to have met this special one. It is especially helpful as their interest in the other sex is beginning to awaken, for it gives a deeper and more meaningful direction for this energy flow. Of course, this wasn’t a huge leap for my kids to make because we had done healing prayers together before, so this was simply a new form of it.
I remember one notable occasion in which we did this, but it certainly wasn’t the only time. I first had them hold up the concept of the future husband of Krishnabai, whoever and wherever he might be, but we knew that God does know who and where he is. In this knowledge, we would send the healing energy to bless, guide and protect him through all the questions and temptations of youth. We all felt the energy flow through us to this person, unknown to us then, but known to God. Krishnabai was age 14 at this time of this particular prayer. She first met her husband-to-be when she was age 18, when he came to take a program at Ananda.
We then repeated the process for Peter, who was ten years old, and again we felt the energy flow out of us to his future spouse, unknown to us then. Again we prayed that she be guided and blessed and protected through the teen years.
Interestingly, we then thought we’d try it for David, as well, just to be fair, even though he was only two! (He was with us in the living room, also “helping” us pray. Well – at least he was cooperating, and trying to go along with it.) We did the same process and felt…nothing. I laughed and said, “She’s probably not even born yet!”
Even though we have only done this a few times as a whole family, Tim and I have done it in our own prayers on behalf of our children, and more importantly, both of my older kids told me that they continued privately to pray this way through the teen years. It has given them a more sacred, respectful perspective for the whole process of falling in love and “looking for the right one.”
More on the Invocation to God, Christ, Guru
Every mother hopes her children will be happy in life, but lasting happiness must flow from something greater than the mother’s heart alone. As a mother, one of my primary concerns was to give our children every opportunity to develop reverence and devotion to God, and our line of gurus. The gift of this spiritual path is a treasure indeed, and, as I mentioned before, I have long resonated with the scriptural statement, “The greatest gift in all of the three worlds is to have a true Guru.”
A guru can guide his disciples in many ways. Some gurus are silent, some teach through parables. And with any true guru, the deepest help comes from deep within the soul, helping us to let go of harmful tendencies, and to open more fully to God’s grace. We are blessed on this path to have been given so much in written form, in the many books and lessons by Paramhansa Yogananda, a rare form of guidance and a true gift for those ready to apply it in their lives. For this reason, also, I wanted my children to be open to the guru, because from what I could see, his teachings offered the best possible chance for joy and happiness throughout life.
More chapters soon to follow:
- Teen years
- Spiritual stories