The day our grandson was baptized was crystalline. Everything shone, God’s beneficence polishing every moment. Those days don’t happen often enough; probably that says more about my clouded sight and dim soul than about God.
It was snowing heavily as Mark and I drove up to the First CRC in Barrie. This charming rustic church is thoughtfully nestled into the surrounding trees. The hush of a myriad flakes falling thickly in the subdued grey light created an intimate sense of enclosure, a holy circle in the city.
Our son Tom and daughter-in-law Sarah were in the mother’s room. Baby Jake had just finished nursing. He was quietly content, his bright eyes taking everything in with glorious innocence and incomprehension. Tom dressed him in his baptismal gown, the same gown sent from Holland by my grandmother to my mother in Canada for my baptism, a garment now 58 years old. I thought about that aching distance as I carefully washed and ironed it. The yearning with which my grandmother must have wrapped the delicate gown; the longing with which my mother must have received the special package. Tom had been baptized in this gown, too. I watched as he gently eased his son’s rosy arms through the sleeves. Sarah cuddled the baby close to her heart as Tom did up the buttons at the back. An inner voice, maybe my own, whispered, Mark these moments – talismans against those “other” days.
Tom and Sarah had requested a traditional ceremony. The familiar words spread like balm from the 1566 Psalter of Dantheus across the centuries and across the ocean. I knew the phrases by heart – baptism is a sign and a seal that our sins are washed away, presented without the stain of sin among the assembly of the elect, received into God’s favour in Christ – doctrine turned incantation, truths from Scripture recited through generations, hallowing the future for me, for my son, for his son. The pastor baptized Jakeb William Frederick Smith in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the tiny furrowed brow marked three times with the watery sign of the cross. The sacrament of infant baptism is a treasure that keeps me in church, a remarkable expression of the humble generosity of our Maker. Immortal God making irrevocable and eternal promises to Jakeb, nine pounds of squeaking flesh, completely unaware and unappreciative. Very God, knowing what it is to be a dependent bundle of bunched-up arms and legs, vowing to be Immanent Presence, to be a shade at Jake’s right hand. Sign language indeed, a mystery beyond even the noblest words. Not contract, not partnership, but God, the Perfect Parent, moving first, loving Jake before he could love back, before he was even born: “For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul; Always, always Thou lovedst me.” C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too), but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’”
After the baptism, Tom passed Jake to me. I tucked his balled-up form into the curve of my arm, inhaling his sweetness, warming his tiny fingers under my hand, while the pastor prayed a heartfelt prayer for him, for his parents and for all of God’s people and then preached the old, old story. I held him while God’s people filed past, congratulating us all, expressing love for our son and daughter-in-law and the newest member of their congregation. Not strangers, but God’s people in Barrie, and so, my people, too.
Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch with Tom and Sarah’s friends in the fellowship hall. Dipping a bun with cheese into steaming soup, enjoying cream puffs without compunction, drinking grape juice and coffee, the companionable meal was another holy circle, the Body and Blood relocated outside the sanctuary. Young fathers clearing dishes, grandmothers wiping tables, children clattering and laughing and little Jakeb in the middle safely asleep in his car seat on the floor. Church at its sacramental best.
All day my heart lay open to receiving God’s goodness and was filled to overflowing. I only came close to tears once, singing the words of a Matt Redman song: “For all your goodness / I will keep on singing / Ten thousand reasons / for my heart to find.”