Sunday, October 15, 2017

stories we swim in

As the unwitting baby is held over the baptismal font, and the parents hold him, the godparents stand by him, and the priest signs him with a cross, the monumental nature of this moment grabs me.

Above us, the rain beats down on the church roof; it will be twenty-four hours of barely interrupted storm, and we are only three hours in thus far. Standing by my partner Alexander's side, unintentionally matching in gingham shirts, I feel very much like we are a pair [of some kind of creature. Horses? Gazelles? Gingham zebras?] in an ark. The congregation has circled around the baptismal font like a herd around a watering hole—the spring from which we draw our life. The children gaggle around the lower pool of the font, unabashedly curious, enthralled, with the blank stare of children's curiosity, by the mysterious ritual actions of the priest.

This is, indubitably, the most important moment of this child's life. As the water pours over his head, an ontological leap occurs. He no longer is a slave to sin, but participates, in a concrete-if-hidden way in this mysterious new space called Resurrection which Christ opened up for human beings like him and me. The Trinity has brought humanity into a new mode of relationship with itself, the created stuff of the human flesh now has a space inside the Godhead. And we, the baptized who surround him, have all been welcomed into that new space, ensconced in the eschatological age of union with God which can be called both heaven and resurrection. As the priest signs him with the liquid cross and Trinitarian formula, his soul is changed.

I gaze at his beautiful wide eyes and my heart stings for this child—this little tiny bread loaf of human being. He has so little past right now, and so much future. I think of what a human's future is full of: all the many nights of fear, of loneliness, of pain, of hurt—hurt heads, bruised bodies, fractured bones, broken hearts—of those who will label him cruel names, of a world which will try to box him into all sorts of narratives—of what it means to be successful, valuable, cool, fun, beautiful, a man. This small being of infinite freedom and dignity will, with each increasing day, be stained with all the smut the world smears on us, the sludge it drags us through, forced into all sorts of narratives. The injustice of that burns inside of me, making me wish I could flood this terrible world with the rain that beats down on the church for forty days and forty nights, and give everything and everyone on it a fresh start, wiped free from all the distorted lies and tangled knots into which we've mangled it.

But this moment—not those moments—will be the defining moment of his life. Because, in this moment, this child's narrative is set in Christ. The course of his story has changed, for he is baptized into the story which will define him for the rest of his life. His narrative is now that of death and resurrection. As he has been baptized into Christ's death, so, too, will he be baptized into his resurrection, according to Paul. Christ has claimed him for his own. And that is monumental, dazzling. Whatever story the world tries to foist on this small child, Christ has claimed him in a deeper way. And, although this seedling of a boy is not aware of this now, the radiant, inescapable truth of this baptismal claim will continue to radiate into his life until his final breath. Whenever the world will try to bend him, twist him into what he is not, the stern sacrament of cross and resurrection into which this baptism has transformed him will push against all the lies the world warps us with. This baptism will have the final say. This baptism has claimed him, has reached to the singularity of his being and planted Christ there.

And the child lies in his father's arms, totally unaware of the great sacramental moment of decision which is happening inside him. He doesn't even know what's happening, I whisper to Alex. But his parents do, responds Alexander, who sees different things than I sometimes, a boon and blessing to my limited vision.

For it's not the lack of faith of the child that counts in this moment (aren't we all just little children, bumbling through the world, unwitting beneficiaries of the gratuitous grace that showers us in storms), but the weight of our faith which surrounds him. The community gathers around this child, most of us having been his size when this great moment of decision and grace happened in our own lives. We watch an event which once occurred in our story and experience, through him, what we cannot remember experiencing ourselves. He is a witness for us of our own baptism, our own defining moment of grace. And our awareness of the solemn sacredness of the moment, our participation as witnesses of the event, fills in for his unconscious reception of the grace.

As we repeat our own baptismal vows, rain pounds down all around the warm church, and I cannot help but feel that we, too, are being re-baptized in this moment. Here, as I watch with gratitude and joy the welcoming of a new member into the body of Christ, I am given another moment to decide, to proclaim the baptismal creed for myself which my godparents uttered on my behalf so long ago. To be reminded that this, too, is my story; this is who we each truly are. This is a moment for all the twisted knots we've tangled ourselves in, for all the sorry broken lies, the empty show, and hurtful narratives the world has placed on us to be washed away by the rain above us and by the water that flows through the priest's hand and runs over the baby's smooth, unwrinkled forehead. This story of this baby’s life is grounded now in Christ the cornerstone, and his baptismal transformation reminds us Christ is our narrative, too.

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