On Sunday, my son received the sacrament of baptism.
This was not something we told him to do; we didn’t suggest, coerce, or force him into it. In fact, he has been asking for about two years. For a number of reasons, it wasn’t until this past weekend that he was able to do so.
I have to admit, I love baptisms. This is true no matter what method is used or what the circumstances. There is holy beauty in the symbols of cleansing, renewal, and rebirth. Long after I became a Christian, I learned that various types of baptism are used in many different religious traditions. Even within my own, baptism takes many forms.
I have never been comfortable with any Christian teaching about baptism that creates too many rules. I don’t simply mean the rituals we use or the words we say or the prayers we utter. I mean those who want there to be strict guidelines on the method used or how old the person must (or must not) be or whether or not the person has been deemed by external evaluation to be a “real” Christian. The truth is, the Bible is pretty murky on these points.
There will be people who believe that my son’s baptism wasn’t “real.” They might think he’s too young for a believer’s baptism or that it wasn’t enough because he wasn’t fully immersed. I honestly don’t care. That moment when our family honored God and long-standing Christian tradition was beautiful and holy, and anyone who wishes to make it less than it was needs to spend some time examining his or her motives.
Before the Big Day, our pastor came to our house to talk with our son about his baptism. Just to make it clear, this wasn’t some kind of test. She didn’t whisk him away to another room to grill him on the finer points of his salvation while his father and I sat on our couch biting our nails in anticipation. She came to our home, a place of comfort and safety for him. She talked with him about the running symbolism of water throughout the Bible–and we all discovered that he likes rather obscure stories. (Our pastor suggested a story he might remember involved parting water; instead of Moses, he named Elisha.) She explained how everything would go during his baptism and asked if he had any questions. (He did, but they weren’t pertinent to baptism; fortunately, our pastor is a gracious woman who understands children.)
We did have an entertaining moment regarding communion. Our pastor told our son that he could take communion after he was baptized. He had already occasionally taken the elements at our previous church, but he was curious because this church uses real wine. He informed our pastor that he would take the wine instead of the grape juice (which they do offer as an alternative). She replied, “That’s up to your parents.” I told my husband later that I was okay with it, but my fear was that our son would do what I would have at his age–take a sip and spit it right back out. In church. With everyone else watching. My husband offered to buy some wine so our son could taste it, to which he said, “Never mind. I’ll just have the grape juice.”
So on April 7, my nine-year-old was baptized. He did not stand in front of the church to give a testimony about his faith. He wasn’t dunked in the Jordan River. But our pastor poured out the life-giving water on his head and anointed him (formed the sign of the cross, for the uninitiated) with oil. He was baptized alongside a small baby, the son of a family friend (which in itself was a happy surprise, though it is not entirely my story to tell). He was welcomed in as part of both the church family and God’s family. Once he was baptized, he received holy communion, kneeling before God with his fellow believers (and had grape juice instead of wine).
In a few years, he will have the opportunity to confirm his faith. Perhaps he will choose to do so; perhaps not. When he is grown, he will make new decisions about his faith. This moment was not the beginning of his journey, nor was it the end. It was a stop along the way, a moment that held meaning for his nine-year-old self. My hope is not that he travel my spiritual path but that he will learn to navigate his own. He has already made one choice; there are many more to come. For now, we will honor the vows we made to give him all the love, help, and support he needs along the way.