For over a year, our oldest son switched “I” and “you” whenever he spoke. So he sounded like an overly compassionate child, always concerned with what “you” wanted and what “you” needed, constantly volunteering that “I” should help the crying baby and “I” should clean up the mess. His malaprop-kid-ism was cute at the beginning. But after months and months of ignoring our corrections, his habit got grating for those closest to him who were constantly being asked whether they wanted a diaper change.
With help from his teacher and sitter, we recently redoubled our efforts to help him learn. And over the last month, he’s started to switch, slowly. Now we hear a hybrid of “I” and “you,” but trending towards full claiming of self-hood when he speaks. Today when we pose a question, he responds carefully and proudly – “I do!” – the words still new, fresh and powerful in his mouth.
. . .
Last week we were talking after Mass about baptism, about the babies who had been dunked in water and blessed with oil and dressed in white. My boy pondered this thoughtfully, remembering what he had seen when he gathered around the fount with the other children. Then he posed me a question:
“Do you say ‘I do’ at church?”
I paused, surprised. I’d forgotten to talk about the “I-dos,” the vows we all renewed before the babies were baptized. But he remembered.
I started to correct his I/you confusion for the zillionth time, but then I stopped. In fact, we had both said “I do” at the morning’s baptism. And I have spoken these words at church many more times than he has. When the priest asked my husband and me if we were ready to give ourselves to each other in marriage. When our pastor asked if we knew what we were doing when we brought each of our boys to be baptized. We speak these words often at church, whenever we renew baptismal vows or attend a wedding: I do. I do.
. . .
Lately I listen to my son sing-song his new words around the house, talking himself while he plays or responding when I ask him questions. He is learning to claim and assert himself, to stand as a separate and independent entity, one who understands who he is and what he wants. And by recognizing who he is, he better understands who others are as well. The lines become less blurry each time he states clearly, “I do.”
Baptism sounds like this to my ears: I do, I do, I do. It is the sacrament of self-hood, the claiming and christ-ing of each child of God, the initiation into a family and a life of faith. This morning when I watched two more babies plunged into waters of new life, one silent and wondering, one shrieking and wailing, I thought about the sounds of baptism.
Sometimes baptism sounds like a splash, a squeal, a seal. The pour of water, rub of oil, spark of candle. But over time baptism sounds like the long learning of “I do,” growing into identity and understanding, claiming for ourselves what the church and God believe we can become.
It’s a big step, learning to say “I do.” I’m still trying to figure out how to do it every day. But I’m proud of my boy for his awakening, and grateful for journeying on his gradual realization of what it means to be “I” and what it means to “do.”
It takes all of us a long time – maybe a lifetime – to get there.
One whole trip around the sun. That’s how long he’s been a Christian.
A year ago we gathered with old and new friends, family from near and far. My mother and I dressed my six-week old son in the baptismal gown that four generations of my family have worn.
And a young deacon, an-almost priest we met as he journeyed through seminary, rolled up the sleeves of his alb, nervously took the squirmy baby from my arms, and plunged him deep into the waters of new life.
He came up wide-eyed and gave a small yelp. We all smiled.
Everyone likes when the baby cries, my mother whispered. That’s how they know the baptism “took.”
Last weekend we watched a baptism from the back of church while that same boy, now a year old and a thousand times squirmier, crawled around the gathering space. I listened as the pastor asked parents and godparents the old familiar questions we’ve heard a thousand times before.
What name do you give your child? What do you ask of the Church for your child? Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
The priest chuckled at the last question, paused and turned to the congregation. “I always laugh when I ask parents that one. As if they have any clue at all what they’re getting into.”
I looked down at our boy. I thought about the letter I wrote him one year ago. Do I clearly understand what I am undertaking? Trying to raise him in this church, trying to raise him in any kind of faith when all the headlines scream that it’s becoming more unpopular by the day?
Not at all. Maybe none of us do.
But I’m trying. Deep in my bones I believe this is the most important thing I’m trying to do as a parent, to awaken my children to the possibilities of faith and a life lived for others.
And isn’t that what most mothers and fathers do – parent towards possibility? No matter our child’s age or ability, no matter their stage or situation, we always dream of the possibilities, what they might do and achieve and become. Baptism’s like that, too. We are welcomed into a community that has great hopes for us, called by God who dreams of all we might become.
But baptism also celebrates the simple fact of being beloved. Of knowing that we need not achieve to be worthy nor succeed to be faithful. My hopes for what he comes to believe about his faith rest between this tension: I hope it will inspire him to do and remind him to be.
When I think on my boy’s baptism anniversary of what it means to have smeared that chrism on his forehead and named him a child of God, I wonder what knowledge his own bones hold from that moment. None of us remember the first year of life. And yet he knows many things, deeply.
He knows he is loved. He knows the people he loves. He knows he has always been cared for. All of that will help him learn how he is beloved by God, no matter where he goes or what he does. I hope the memory of that belovedness is his lasting gift.
That will be how I know the baptism took.
One year ago today, we baptized S. One, two, three plunges of a wriggling baby into the waters of new life. Not just a symbolic act, but a sacramental transformation that forever changed his relationship to us, to the church, to God.
Today I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live out a sacrament. I love the idea of the “third moment” of sacraments. The first moment is the preparation (the baptism class, the marriage prep), the second moment is the celebration (the dunking in water, the giving of vows), and the third moment is the living out of the sacrament (as the newly baptized or the newly married). The third moment involves the individual’s ongoing relationship with God as well as the community’s ongoing relationship with the individual.
When I speak to people about young adult ministry, I encourage them to consider how their parishes and congregations live out the third moment of sacraments like baptism or marriage. Some parishes have sponsor couples for marriage or baptism that keep in touch with the newlyweds or new parents throughout the next year or two, calling them at several points to hear how things are going and invite them to get involved in the life of the congregation. Other churches host pot-luck gatherings for all the couples who have been married or parents who have brought their children to be baptized in the past year. It’s a chance to reconnect, share their stories, and meet others in the same stage of life.
More importantly, I believe ministers need to help people live out the third moment of sacraments through a growing relationship with God. The sacrament is the invitation to journey one step deeper into what it means to follow Christ and to live a life of faith.
Sacramental theology teaches us that sacraments are not simply magical “pipelines” of grace from God or singular moments that leave “indelible marks” on our souls. Through sacraments we encounter the living God, and our relationship with God and with the church is forever changed.
Sacraments are about relationships. We are baptized, and we become part of the fellowship of believers. We receive communion, and we are invited to share at Christ’s table. We marry, and we enter into a covenant of commitment with our spouse and with God. Life is never the same.
Living out the third moment of a sacrament like baptism involves small steps. Each Sunday we take S back to the church where he was baptized. We bless him with holy water from the same font, and I remind him that this pool of water was where he began as a follower of Christ. We pray with him when he wakes, when he eats, and when he sleeps, so that he will come to learn the rhythms of a life of prayer.
We also live out the third moment of his baptism by involving him more and more with the life of the Christian community into which he entered one year ago today. We build friendships in our parish. We get involved with church committees and serve as liturgical ministers. We try to give back to the community that nurtures us, and we try to model for S what it will mean for him to grow into the church.
Today we celebrated his baptismal anniversary by lighting his baptismal candle and telling the story of his sacrament. We took a long family walk in the warm fall evening. We talked about ways we will continue to celebrate his baptismal day as he gets older: with a special dessert, with a visit to the church to see the baptismal font, with special prayers.
I found this prayer online with no attribution to the author, so please let me know if someone discovers its origin. A beautiful way to celebrate the third moment of a baptism!
Baptism Anniversary Prayer
Remember this, Name.
You have been washed
In the saving waters of baptism
And anointed with holy oil.
Place on your head and in your heart
The sign of the cross of salvation.
Trace the sign of the cross on the child’s head and heart.
You created all the people of the world,
And you know each of us by name.
We thank you for N.,
Who celebrates the anniversary of her baptism.
Bless her with your love and friendship
That she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
May she love her family always
And be ever faithful to her friends.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Place your hands on the child’s head or shoulders.
May God, in whose presence our ancestors walked, bless you. R. Amen.
May God, who has been your shepherd from birth until now, keep you. R. Amen.
May God, who saves you from all harm, give you peace. R. Amen.