Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sadie's Baptism

We tell brides that rain on their wedding day means good luck; we tell parents that when children cry at their baptism it's just the devil getting out of them.  Little Miss Sadie didn't have an ounce of devil in her this morning - not only did she not cry at all, but she actually smiled throughout most of the service.  Sadie is only nine months old, but her smile is well-practiced and makes you feel as though she believes you are the most wonderful thing she has ever seen.  I offered her a wee bit of bread at communion, and she took it along with my fingers into her mouth, so eager was she for that meal.  Her big brother, himself four, by contrast took one bite of his communion wafer and handed the rest to his mother.  After taking a sip of wine, he dashed out the back doors of the church where I understand he spit the wine out in the bathroom sink!  Later, though, when the family gathered for pictures in the chapel, it was clear that Sadie and her brother are related as their pair of smiles brightened the entire space. 

Genesis 28:10-22; Psalm 136:1-9; Hebrews 11:13-22; John 10:7-17

I shared with David and Cathy yesterday a line from one of my favorite poems, William Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality, in which Wordsworth muses on a special kind of sight the soul posseses when we are young.  He writes:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath elsewhere had its setting,

And cometh from afar;

Not in entire forgetfulness, 

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Trailing clouds of glory do we come... I love that image of glory swirling and dancing about children when they are very young.  I know you all must see it circling Sadie, in the brightness of her smile, in the the sparkle of her eyes.  We’ve all wondered, watching children, what they are able to see that perhaps we no longer can - swirling glory, angels in waiting, the face of God?

Wordsworth wonders if the clouds fade as we grow older, or if we simply forget how to see through them even as we learn to see in other ways, more measured, more solid, more linear.  All that swirling and sparkling would be dizzying in a grown-up world that marches forward day by day with responsibilities and obligations and deadlines to meet.  Heaven may lie about us in our infancy, illuminating everything, but as we grow the world teaches us to see by sunlight and lamplight alone.   

This morning's readings come to us trailing clouds of glory that have not yet settled, glory that still swirls around us today as the presence of God in our individual and common lives, glory that just might help us see things we have forgotten how to see – that our home was and is and always will be with God, who in this season of incarnation, in this season of Christmas, has made for heaven a home on earth in the sparkling eyes of an infant lying in a manger.

It had surely been ages since Jacob had seen anything but his own ambition and anxiety.  He had tricked his father and his brother in order to get what he thought was glory, and then took off across the desert and finally dropped to the ground, exhausted.  Jacob dreamed out there, with a rock for a pillow and stars for a blanket.  In his dream he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and on it angels moved up and down.  God was in the dream, not at the top of the ladder but on the ground, right beside Jacob, and God said, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  I will not leave you.

Scripture doesn’t tell us whether it was still dark when Jacob awoke, whether the moon shone upon the desert sand or whether the sun had begun to rise.  Don’t you think, though, that clouds of glory swirled around him as the dream faded but the memory of it remained.  He did not forget what he had just seen.  Surely God was in this place and I did not know it, Jacob declared.  How awesome is this place! he said.  This is the household of God.  This is the gate of heaven.

Perhaps some of us have dreamed or will one day dream as Jacob did.  But I believe that all of us, every once in a while, have the opportunity to arrive in a place and discover there something we had long forgotten how to see.  David and Cathy and all of us who are parents or godparents or grandparents or cousins or big brothers have looked into Sadie’s eyes - into the eyes of any child, right? - and seen a glimpse of heaven.

In this gathered community of faith, and in our own communities of faith where we live, we have joined in prayer and thanksgiving and seen a glimpse of heaven on earth, for there indeed we are in the household of God.

In our prayer and thanksgiving here today, in our celebration of holy Baptism and holy Eucharist, in water and oil and bread and wine, we see in these outward and visible signs the inward and spiritual grace and glory that still swirl around us even when we do not know it.  How awesome is this place.  How awesome is this moment.

Sadie, God is with you and will keep you wherever you go.  God will not leave you.  We and all who will have the good fortune to be part of your community of faith will, with God’s help, be witnesses of the work of God on earth even as you are a witness to us of heaven, which is our home.  May glory swirl about us all this morning, as water swirling in this font, and may it drip over our foreheads and down our necks and soak our souls in grace.  Amen.

Photo: Anonymous on someone's Webshots site, from an album of pictures taken in Asia

1 comment:

Cathy Grooms said...

What a beautiful description of such a special time in this family's life! I have always believed that childhood "innocence" is childhood "knowing God more than the world" in ways we all too soon forget...or disremember. We spend the rest of our lives trying to sort though all the worldly stuff, trying to re-remember God's glory. Have you read Madeleine L'Engle's "Trailing Clouds of Glory?" I'm too lazy to get up to get my copy, but I think I remember it is about children's literature and sprirtuality and God.