Saturday, April 12, 2008

Thoughts on the advent of my baby's baptism

My little girl is being baptized tomorrow. Of course, my religious tradition will baptize anyone at any age, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no greater example of how God comes to us before we deserve, desire, or even realize it than when a baby is baptized. Pure grace.

Sweetie and I will be making some promises tomorrow--promises to teach, nurture, and encourage. But the biggest promise of all has to be one that will remain unspoken...which will be to let my little girl be herself, as the beautiful person God created her. To allow the Holy Spirit the room to do its work, which sometimes means that I must cling tighter...and sometimes I must let go, as painful as it might be at the time. To remember that my job will be the job of nurturing and encouraging faith--not of creating it.

When we try to do the job of the Spirit, more often than not we end up pushing our children (and adults) away from God, rather than drawing them closer.

I LOVE this reflection from Gordon Atkinson at Real Live Preacher:

Children are so soft. Their skin is fragrant and pure, like baby leaves.
Their minds are eager and ready, their hearts are trusting and open, and their
eyes will lead you softly to the very bottom of their souls.

Children know God because God can be found in the soft places of the world.
In mother’s hands and in father’s soft shirts. In laughter and at dinner and in
the goose bumps that rise when lips slide across skin.

It is a terrible thing when soft, childish flesh meets the hard steel of
religion. We cut through children like butter. In our collective unconscious
there is a swishing sound. It is the sound of the swords of Herod’s men rising
and falling on the children of Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.Take a deep breath
now, and free your mind. Do you remember when your spiritual softness was taken
from you?

Did it happen at church?

What sort of church was it? Was it a brick building in the suburbs? Was it
a synagogue or a mosque or a cathedral? Was it the secret church of one man’s
desire, or the feral church of neglected children? Was it the cold sanctuary of
science that stole your myths and left you wounded and empty and suckling at the
stars? Or did you construct your own lonely chapel, like Saint Frances, barefoot
and one stone at a time?

I was wounded along the way. It happens to everyone. Life is hazing. It’s
one big rite of passage from beginning to end. I grew tough as leather, deeply
protected, calloused, and hard. But I worked my leather with the oil of my hands
and with tears and time until I became soft again. And soft, worn leather is
such a comfort to have and to hold.

Now I guard children’s hearts against all religions, sacred and secular. I
will throw myself at you, church man. Stay away from that child’s mind. Let her
be a pagan; let her be a skeptic, a scientist, or a saint. Let her be any or all
of these, but for God’s sake, let her be.

Let her be because her soul was never yours for the taking. If you lay your
hands on her, she will grow hard, and still she will not be yours. But if you
love her and let her and listen to her and allow her, one day she may return
from the far country, fully grown and newly wise.

And soft, still soft. And strong, so strong.

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