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Splashing in the Water

The author and her family celebrating baptism

As preacher’s kids, my sisters and I were forever baptizing our pets. We come from a tradition that baptizes infants as a celebration of God’s grace; we don’t choose to be baptized, because it is a recognition of how God chooses us. It is also not an action we ever have to repeat; there are no re-baptisms in the United Methodist tradition, because God doesn’t mess up choosing us. But I don’t think we believed that we had to baptize our poor cat Amanda for the 403rd time (seriously, why didn’t she run away?) because God messed up; we just liked splashing in the water, and we liked remembering we were a part of a bigger story, something cosmic and ancient, even in our play.

I have not baptized my pets as an adult, though my dog has had her fair share of communion bread (some of which was not on purpose- sorry to all the shut-ins I was supposed to take communion to that one time!), but I still have dreamed of my own child being a part of that cosmic and ancient story. My spouse comes from a different tradition of baptism, but as our wait for a baby extended from months to years, and as that wait for a baby was clouded by pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, even he wanted a ritual celebration of love for a living child.

Once we did finally have a living child, the pandemic limited our ability to celebrate in person, so we decided to wait. We waited until we found out we would be moving. If we continued to wait, the congregation who walked alongside us for the fertility treatment, pregnancy, and birth would not get to celebrate with us. So my spouse and I finally just wrangled our families together and picked a date.

This ceremony was not a grab-the-child-and-stick-him-in-the-bathtub-like-we-did-with-the-cat kind of event. It wasn’t just important to me but also to my own clergymom, seminary friends, and colleagues, all of whom were celebrants willing to take part in ritual creation and leading worship. It represented a kind of gratitude to the church where I stood crying, trying to tell them I was finally pregnant and they stood and clapped and clapped. It was me making a vest for my child out of leftover fabric from my wedding dress to add another layer of love and creativity and sparkle. It was a Big To Do, though my less liturgical Baptist spouse put a limit to the pageantry, as did the continued pandemic.

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You Have to Put the Baby down Somewhere

“You have to put the baby down somewhere”
A Sermon for Port Royal Baptist Church
Christmas Morning 2016; Year A
Luke 2; Titus 2:11-14

Hiking, working in the field all day, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden: Humans are able to do a surprising number of things while holding babies.

A mostly broken animal nativity set that manages to stay in use each year in the author’s house. Here, baby Jesus naps under the kneeling adoration of a lamb while a donkey and camel approach to pay him homage.

Washing hands, cooking, drawing up medicines one-handed, riding in a car, taking a shower, using the bathroom, doing laundry, teaching, preaching, leading worship, eating, washing dishes, typing sermons, studying:

All these things have been done either holding a baby or with a baby strapped on somehow. Did I mention carrying 70 or so pounds of firewood? I’ve seen it done.

You can hold a baby while doing almost anything, if you have to.

But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

You can’t hold them all the time. And sometimes that place is going to be less than ideal:

On the table, in a sink, in a laundry basket, in a dresser drawer, on the ground, in a shoebox on the door of an open oven, on the floor of a public restroom to change a diaper, under the Christmas tree, in a big box in the back of a car, on the floor of the house, in a car seat atop the dryer to soothe colic, on the floor of the shower, on the public restroom floor, propped up on couch cushions, in the bed between you, in the bed with a sibling, in the laundry hallway…

These are all some less-than-ideal places that babies have been put down, and I am sure you can think of a few more.

I had help with this list. I surveyed a group of clergywomen, and they had lots to say about where they slept when they were born, where their older relatives were placed as infants. (The shoebox on the oven door was with premature triplets, and I’m told dresser drawers were pretty common once upon a time.) They had long lists of places they’ve had to put babies down that were less than ideal.

Humans can do an astounding number of things while holding babies. But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

And so did Mary and Joseph.

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author's baby

Provision

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus….Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her…“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:28-40, selections)

author's baby

Luke does not record
what the neighbors say
but the comments are there,

crouching behind the text.
When the messenger says, “Favored One!”
we can almost hear the echoing

“You?”

Luke does not
mention it,
but, guaranteed: Mary knows

it’s there. She knows
when it’s known
that she’s been known,

the greetings will change.
The power of God will not stop
the side-eye. Yet, perhaps

when this babe
opens a tiny mouth
with a vast hunger

and she is able to fill it,
for the time being, a grace
so consuming, a provision

so merciful will bear her
through pain and recoil, this gift
that she agrees to give Read more

swarm of ancient stars

Minding the Gap: Luke 2:21-52

swarm of ancient stars

A swarm of ancient stars

Starlight dims,
newborn stirs;
the body that bore the child
throbs still.

Angels heavenward,
shepherds to their flocks,
a child and her child, dew-covered,
clumsily nurse.

Aching journey to the temple–
abiding Torah, dedicated.
Simeon and Anna:
salvation seen, dismissed in peace.

And then the gap–
silence flanked by temple steps,
a long twelve years, one for each tribe,
no story to behold.

A mother’s mind
wanders the expanse
between blessed babe
and temple stowaway–

Between infant warm and safely swaddled
and beloved gone missing among dusty sandals.
Between “glory of your people Israel”
and “Why were you searching for me?”

Blissfully unaware of fear-besieged parents,
immersed in the teachings
an almost-man, according to tradition–
no wonder he dismisses her concern, as teenagers do.

But what of the gap, the in-between?
Restless nights of weaning,
mornings awakened and evenings drawn with Shema
recited by her lips, heard by his ears.

What of the hands that fed and washed and held
the One that would feed and wash and hold us?
What of her gaze guiding his play and wonder,
treasuring all these things in her heart?

Blessed are you among women, dear Mary,
mother of God whose twelve years’ mothering
garnered paraphrase without attribution–as mothering does:
“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”

Starlight dims.
Seen or unseen,
even in the noonday sun
it shines.