I officiated at a baptism yesterday.
It is the second one I have done since the onset of this pandemic.
In both cases we had our masks on and kept our distance. (Pictured here is the family along with the sponsors who were with us via Facetime. Other than for the photographs, they kept their masks on. Even the three year old big sister!)
Both times the groups were small, parents and grandparents and siblings only.
In both cases I spoke the words as the parents poured the water and laid their hands on in with this blessing:
“Sustain George Everett with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.”
Yesterday it happened that I looked up halfway through these words which I have spoken countless times before to see his mother and dad holding little George between them, both of their hands resting on his tiny head. It caught my breath to see such tenderness, indeed, such hope grounded in love in a time when such as this can seem awfully hard to come by.
For this is also so. In both cases I have wondered at the world these little ones will grow up in and I have been grateful for parents who love them who are trying to root them in promises truer than can be heard anywhere else. In a story so much larger than the one the world tells.
- A story which helps us live differently in a world where greed and power seem to rule and where weakness and poverty are held in disdain.
- A story which gives deeper and richer and truer meaning than what the world can possibly give.
The story which is outlined in Paul’s precious words to the Philippians now. This one here where you and I are called to follow the one who ‘being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” This story here which seeks to make sense out of suffering and to show that as we come through it, there is victory!
- And so it is I am wondering now what does it mean to allow this ‘mind’ to be shaped in ourselves?
- What does it look like for this way of being to be shaped in the minds of our children, our grandchildren?
- And how can we be gifts to others in this, accompanying along a way which can be difficult? A way which certainly runs contrary to the way we would rather go.
No doubt there are many things we can take from Paul’s rendering of the central story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is simply where I am landing now:
For this is so.
There is plenty of suffering to go around. Even among those who would count ourselves fortunate by the world’s standards, there is more than enough.
The problem is (and here I speak for myself) we would often rather avoid it. We would rather step aside or duck under it or just plain ignore it, hoping that it will all just go away. Especially when it is ours to receive, to live into, to make sense of.
Only it doesn’t go away, of course it doesn’t. We can steel ourselves against it, busy ourselves with other things, try to push it off on someone else, but it is always still there waiting to be tended, assimilated, finally healed. For me, at least, it’s like waking up with a toothache (and I have some experience with this of late.) It is typical of me to wait a day or two, hoping for the pain to subside, letting myself believe that maybe it was a temporary aberration. It never is, of course. A trip to the dentist always follows along with more pain usually before healing finally comes.
Toothaches and worse will come to all of us.
Indeed, that little one we baptized yesterday will know wondrous things in his life, no doubt. But he will also suffer skinned knees and bruised hearts. No doubt more than once. His parents will let him down, his teachers will not always recognize his potential, his friends will betray him. He will love and not have that love returned to him. Eventually, he will stand at gravesides and weep. And yes, as he is raised to have the heart of Jesus, this very world will break his heart again and again.
Little George will suffer, as we all do. But what I am wondering now is how this faith we hold and which promises to hold us can accompany him in all of that, enabling his heart to be softened, his resolve to go deeper, his courage to be greater, his hope to expand rather than hardening him, weakening him, stealing his courage, shrinking his hope.
For this is the way of Jesus, is it not?
So it is these days that I am reading Richard Rohr’s The Wisdom Pattern. (If you subscribe to his newsletter, you know the concepts he lays out there.) And I am wondering at what it means to walk into the suffering, instead of avoiding it. I am wondering how the pain we all experience might just be transformed when it is not ignored or avoided. Indeed, I am wondering what it looks like to do this as Jesus did, leaning always into the love and grace and power of God.
I don’t fully know yet (as none of us do), but I am getting a sense of what this might be in this very challenging time as I am little by little seeking to do just this and I am finding that somehow gratitude deepens and hope renews. And I have to say this is especially so. I am grateful for those who willingly walk with me into that darkness.
And so it is these days I am more sure than ever that we do what matters most as we seek to nurture our small ones, our young ones, into this way of being, living, suffering, renewing, healing, hoping…
Indeed, it seems to me this may be the very best we can give them so that the cynicism and the suffering and the backward values of this world will not destroy them.
More and more I believe this to be so. What do you think?
- How are we called to hear Paul’s words to the Philippians today? What does it mean to you to walk into suffering as Jesus did instead of avoiding it?
- How might we pass this gift along to those whose nurturing in faith is entrusted to us?
- Are you familiar with Rohr’s Wisdom Pattern? Does it ring true for you?