Since childhood: Once upon a time… there was a little girl who loved to read poetry aloud to her stuffed animals. Yup, it’s me!… As a child, my imagination was sparked by poetry, painting and tales from other cultures. In retrospect, the studies and career paths I chose echoed my childhood passions for storytelling, art and reading people’s hearts. The world beyond my suburban upbringing intrigued me and after high school I spent 10 years abroad. The experiences I had brought precious opportunities to meet folks from diverse cultures and share in their sacred traditions.
Travel and studies: My adventures started in Israel on an experimental communal farm (kibbutz) whose mission was the development of leadership skills in youth. Tending the organic gardens and working in the fields led to my decision to study farming at a college in England. However, life often takes some surprising turns. More and more I found myself being drawn inward and wanting to explore my spiritual connection to the Divine. So I switched gears and decided to attend Seminary instead! My studies deepened my desire for a life in which I could be of service to others. However, I wasn’t ready to be ordained. When I was offered the chance to join a team developing a treatment center for recovering drug addicts in Holland I gladly accepted. It turned out that art therapy was a key component of the program. Witnessing the healing power of therapeutic art inspired me to pursue this line of work.
Professional development. Healing. Ordination: Upon returning to the States I expanded into the pioneering discipline of Expressive Therapies and had the privilege of directing several programs that used the arts for healing and empowerment. At the same time I began a deep dive into my own emotional healing which proved to be a necessary step on my journey towards true service.
Simultaneously I encountered a spiritual community whose approach to worship transcended religious divisions and honored all faith traditions as rays of the One Light. Deeply inspired I was eventually ordained as a Sufi minister. It was during a solitary meditation retreat that I first heard the devotional music of Sri Karunamayee. A powerful current poured through her voice directly into my spirit. In a flash of intuitive recognition I knew that this music was the missing link at the heart of my spiritual journey.
Pilgrimage: To that end I took a leave of absence from my expressive therapies job which turned into a 3-year devotional music immersion in Delhi, India where Sri Karunamayee (Didi) lived. This was where she taught me the multi-faith verses sung by Mahatma Gandhi during the daily prayer meetings he conducted. Didi had attended these gatherings as a child and personally received his blessing. I thrived in this musical communion and made a solemn intention to include it as part of my work back in the States despite having no clear vision of how this would take shape!
Chaplaincy: Through a series of synchronicities I was introduced to the field of chaplaincy, a vocation in which I could collaborate with a healthcare team to provide care of the human spirit to patients and their families. Hence, I decided to become a board certified chaplain and was fortunate to be hired by a large cosmopolitan hospital in Northern California. The rainbow of prayer songs I’d acquired over the years from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Native American, Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sufi and even American folk hymn traditions was the perfect match for the multi-cultural demographic of this institution. What followed was a profoundly fulfilling decade in which I was able to integrate elements from devotional music, interfaith ministry and expressive therapies.
Celebrating my 47th birthday tucked away in a tiny retreat-hut, the dark night bright with stars, I meditated upon my life’s purpose. Although I’d longed for a relationship in the past, chaplaincy, communion with the Divine and music had become my everything. To my astonishment, I was shown that an intimate relationship was to be the next step in my spiritual development. Huh? For real?! Gosh … What do I do, get a dating app or something?
Dragging my heels a bit, I signed up with a matchmaker. My beloved Daniel, a man who’d also never been married showed up amongst the first handful of recommendations, though I, as it turned out, was his 200th date! Although now I can see that it was a match made in heaven, there was plenty of resistance there for me to work through. The first time I drove out to visit Daniel in Carmel Valley I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in Tuscany. It quickly became clear which one of us would be relocating! At the time I was unaware that the Monterey Peninsula is a world renowned wedding destination.
Marriage: Regardless of being a late bloomer in the marriage department, here it was! As I said my goodbyes in the neonatal unit, a trusted Sikh doctor drew me aside to say: “Zia, now you are to do the work for which all your other work has been but a preparation!” Although he was speaking of marriage being a sacred work, his words also magically foretold the dawning of the new form my ministry was to take. Though I’d officiated weddings over the years, it wasn’t until I had skin in the game that I realized what a profound opportunity the creation of an inspired marriage ceremony can be. The intentions that informed the writing of Daniel’s and my vows are still palpably reverberating in our partnership twenty years later.
Monterey Ceremonies by Zia: A fire was lit. I started my company “Monterey Ceremonies by Zia” to serve couples who want their wedding to set the tone for a loving, thriving partnership. Creating joyful, purposeful, life-giving ceremonies is my calling and I am deeply grateful for all of you who make this work possible!