One day, not long after the oil started pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, I came across a blog entry by Michelle Schoffro Cook called “Advice From an African Medicine Woman.” The piece suggested a way of healing the earth that entailed filling a bowl with water, praying over it, and releasing it back to the earth. Do this for 30 days, she said, and be open to the alchemy of it.
I remembered something my sister Emily once said, that raising happy children boils down to three things: sharing meals, playing, and meditating with them.
(“Meditating?!” I said. “Have you met my kids?”
“Maybe just saying grace before dinner is enough,” she said.)
So I thought this might make a good opportunity to meditate. That night we went into the kitchen, chose some dusky blue bowls from my grandmother’s house, and filled them with water. We prayed for flow, for peace, for healing of the ocean.
“Now go outside and pour your water on something that’s alive,” I said.
“Can I pour it on the cat?” said my second grader.
“No,” I said.
“What if I see a snake?” he said. “Can I pour it on that?”
“No. Try the grass. Or a leaf.”
“This is heavy,” said my kindergartner, trying to carry his bowl.
“I know, sweetie,” I sighed. I know.
“It is kind of heavy,” I said later on the phone to my sister.
(I’d just told her what a friend had said about our ritual: “Ha-ha. Does anyone release their bowl full of prayers into the toilet?”
“Very funny,” I’d said.)
“Oh, you should keep doing it,” said Emily. “It’s good for the boys. It gives them a way to think about sending good intentions outside of themselves.”
Then we started talking about the rituals we’d done as kids—eaten together every night as a family, worked in the vegetable garden, fed the chickens in the morning. Cut wood every weekend.
“Of course, we all hated cutting wood,” my sister said.
“Actually, I secretly kind of liked it,” I said. “It was thawing the water for the chickens in the winter before school that drove me crazy.”
But what those rituals did do was cultivate the seed that was already there: a love for being outside, for plants and animals, an appreciation for the natural world.
So we keep praying to our tapwater and pouring it back into our yard, and we remain open to the alchemy of it. My older son is growing out of it, but my younger one still loves it. He closes his eyes and leans forward, getting his mouth as close to the water as possible. “I love you, I love you,” he whispers. “Heal, heal.”
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