The very hour of Hugh’s birth, Vivienne rushed into the hospital room, gazed at him with four-year-old wonder, and squealed, “When will he be baptized?!”
Not what I expected!
And, she didn’t give it up… She nagged me to call our priest and schedule a date. “Maybe Tuesday would be good,” she’d suggest. She showed Hugh a crumpled pamphlet on baptism she’d been toting around. “See this?” she shoves it in his earnest little face. “God will wash your heart, buddy!”
And, oh, what greater joy than to baptize him in the bath! She’d solemnly pronounce, “I BAPTIZE YOU in the name of the FATHER, the SON, and the HO-LY SPIRIT.” Early on, he just stared at her, stunned… now he swats at her, saying, “Na-na-na-no!” as she tips a container of bathwater over his head.
When Vivienne was born, Ryan and I had to work through some of our questions about infant baptism. We were both baptized as older children (“believer’s baptism” where baptism also functions as a public statement of faith), so had no personal experience with infant baptism in our adopted Episcopal tradition. It felt strange to consider baptizing a tiny human who couldn’t say her own name, much less proclaim her faith in Jesus.
We read a lot about it, talked a lot about it, spoke with our parents, met with our priests to ask questions. I’ll refrain from dissecting the theological arguments for infant baptism here, but how about a tiny summary statement:
For Episcopalians, baptism is not primarily a public statement of faith (that’s what confirmation is for), it’s God’s action in our hearts, initiating a life of learning and discipleship.
I think there’s quite a bit of humility and mystery in that.
Anyway, in all of our dialogue on this, there was a turning point for me…
In response to further questioning, one of our priests reflected, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Vivienne never knew a time she wasn’t welcome at the table?” (The “table” being communion.)
I mean, wow! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of her earliest memories were at the altar, receiving the bread and wine? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, as her understanding of those gifts grew, she already knew–in the fullest sense–that they were for her?
That just broke it wide open for us, two first-born over-achievers who struggled with concerns about whether we were “ready” or “good enough” leading up to our own baptisms.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” No theological understanding necessary. Maybe we’ve all made this more complicated than it needs to be.
In the end, we went ahead with Vivienne’s baptism when she was 18 months old. It was, and continues to be, such a blessing!
The baptismal prayer became my bedtime prayer for her — it’s so beautiful! I still pray it over her at night, and it fills me with hope each time:
Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen. BCP 308
As you can see from the above noted spiritual fervor, it seems to be working.
And so, with great anticipation, Vivienne, Ryan and I presented Hugh for baptism a few weeks ago, along with his wonderful godparents.
This time, our preparation was considerably simpler. Some plans for the service, some salad assembly and cookie baking for a little luncheon afterward. (It was nearly 90 degrees and humid that day – cold salads, cold drinks, and cookies made in advance were about all any of us could handle.)
As Mother Susan baptized Hugh, Vivienne giggled with each pour – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – prompting a wave of smiles and chuckles through the pews.
The whole congregation prayed the baptismal prayer aloud, this time for our sweet Hugh. Give him a spirit to know and love you…
It occurs to me that Vivienne–in her own delighted, enthusiastic way–is part of God’s answer already. How could Hugh ever miss the joy and wonder with a sister like that?
Thanks to my sister, Hillary, for the photo of Vivi’s baptism,
and to our dear friend, Bridget, for the photos of Hugh’s!