Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vignettes

Last Wednesday, I visited a baby boy and his mother in the hospital. We haven't had many hospitalized in the last week or so; just the baby boy, four months old. And his surgery was good news: everything had gone well, though he was still attached to an IV, and had stitches running all the way across his head.

On Monday, he had had surgery to remove part of his skull, a deformity at his birth. Since he was born 4 months ago, they have been preparing for this day. And when I walked in they were preparing him for a bath, a momentous and somewhat complicated occasion, since tubes had to be removed or covered so they would not get wet. Mother and nurse worked together to get him ready to put in the tub, which just had a little bit of water in it. Then they poured cups of warm water over him and bathed him.

It turns out that the most important thing they were doing was washing his head, specifically his stitches. As the nurse gently poured water on his head so that he would not get an infection, he cried and cried. He was NOT a happy little boy. As I watched her I remembered his baptism, less than two weeks before. He had cried then, too, as we gently washed away his sin and proclaimed him a child of God. Later on, during the picture taking, he was happy and comforted again.

What does that mean, anyway? "the washing away of sin." What does a four-month old baby know of sin? Nothing, really: at 4 months a baby has neither means, motive or opportunity for sin. Still, I tell the parents: we are all born inclined to sin, and sooner or later we all get there. But on that day I saw baptism in another way: healing. And we all need healing, don't we? From the youngest to the oldest among us, we all need to be healed, to have our stitches washed, even though it makes us cry.

*****

On Sunday we woke up to temperatures of about 13 below zero, not counting the windchill. Needless to say, attendance at all three services was smaller than usual. Besides the cold weather, it is now flu and cold season as well. If I hadn't been preaching, I might have considered staying at home myself!

Our small 11:11 service (Called the Little Liturgy) took the worst hit. I wasn't even sure there would be a service. And as I have been fighting a cold, part of me was kind of pulling for a last-minute cancellation.

We had two visitors, a father and a son. Four or five others eventually joined them, and we had enough to worship together, huddle together, perhaps more accurately. I was embarrassed to have a manuscript in front of me, and resolved then and there to begin to have an outline version ready for these more intimate worship services.

However, the son sat in rapt attention to my every word. He didn't seem to mind that I had a "script". His father told me after the service "my son drags me to church." I am glad they came, and reminded me that hearts, and not numbers, are important, and that Jesus usually changes lives one or two at a time, and not "en masse."

****

Sunday night my husband and I went to the Large Chain Bookstore for coffee and to decide what to use our gift cards for. In the corner sat a young woman pastor from a tradition different than my own. She was wearing a black clerical shirt and collar, and writing on her laptop computer. I felt significantly underdressed in my jeans and sweatshirt. Is there something wrong with me, that I want to get out of my "work clothes" as soon as possible on Sunday? I don't always want people to know who I am.

A friend of mine said that she was on a train once with a group of nuns. When the train encountered difficulties, she was somehow comforted by their presence. Their dress set them apart and let people know who they were. On the other hand, when I first told my co-workers I was going to seminary, they suddenly stopped inviting me to their parties. I guess that I wasn't such a comforting presence in that context.

I'm not sure if I was comforted or disturbed when I noticed the pastor sitting in the corner and working on Sunday evening.

12 comments:

mompriest said...

prayers for that sweet baby boy - may he heal well and have no lingering scars...

I've never been big on the "washing away our sins" theology of baptism, especially for babies...I prefer to emphasize being welcomed into the community and being given gifts of the Holy Spirit, charged to love as God loves.

Not that I don't believe in sins and our need for repentence and reconciliation - I totally do...just not as a primary emphasis in baptism...

(maybe I'm a heretic)....

leah sophia said...

things to think about...out here in paradise, not many clergy of either gender in any denom wear a collar other than on sundays, and i used to get so annoyed at my woman seminary classmates who insisted on wearing a collar all the time, everywhere, though that with a way different aura. at its inception, christianity was a lay movement, and as someone who has served professionally in the church but for a number of reasons chose not to finish seminary and be ordained to ministry of word and sacrament, on the one hand i'm dismayed at how over-clericized the church has become, at how i'm often excluded from gatherings (as in, 'that announcement was for my pastor colleagues') and often assumed theologically ignorant in semi-hushed conversations...but on that other hand, i think there definitely is an important place for a visible, readily identifiable presence of the church in the form of someone wearing a collar or dressed in an old-fashioned habit, but these days...i'm too tired now (again) so i'm going to shower and hopefully go to sleep in a few and wake up to a maybe interesting friday 5 and the rest of a productive day?! many blessings to you, hubby and ms. scout!

Diane said...

well mompriest, I have this little book on baptism that I use with all families and it has all kinds of "images" of baptism. It's great because everything centers on what God gives us in baptism. Anyway, one of the images is "washing away sins" and I always like to hit it head on, not because it's my favorite image, but because often people have an issue with that, and it's a good opportunity to talk about it.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

oh we lutherans are pretty heavy on the sinfulness from square one...

on the collar business... just be yourself diane. that's what God asks. if jeans & a sweathshirt is being yourself... then so be it. God will use you for "you" not your wardrobe. (hmmm maybe i need to take this advice myself!)

Rev SS said...

IMHO, Sometimes it's good to be identifiable when you're working and sometimes it's good to be anonymous when you're on your Sabbath time. -:)

LawAndGospel said...

I really liked the imagery of healing of baptism. Restoration, renewal, wholeness. Just random thoughts. I too have thought about the clerics issue. At the seminary, clerics are not common attire for most. In my teaching parish, my pastor considers clerics to be de rigeur attire for everyday and everywhere. She talks about vacation as a time to set aside her clerics. She talks of my need to feel the yoke of the call. Others only wear clerics when "they have to." I wonder what is the message we seek to send when we wear clerics and to whom do we send it? Not answers, questions. But I am pretty sure that God does not determine the strength of our conviction by a plastic strip.

Jiff said...

What a great post.
Thanks for the window into your busy day.
I'm in awe that you can live it and process it....

even down to "What not to Wear".
Or What to Wear.

Whatever.

Barbara B. said...

Great vignettes!
And, hey, I would have still invited you to my parties! :)

Rowan The Dog said...

Good post, Diane.
Me and Rowan would invite you and Scout to our parties. But, leave the collar at home. We like parties, and we like you, but we don't like what the collar stands for.

gartenfische said...

I like the two stories of the children. How beautiful that the son brings the dad to church!

Maybe you prefer to blend in when you're out in public. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

FranIAm said...

All I can say is... what a great post.

Grace, Every Day said...

Great post. I love this! I love your view of life - what a bright spot in my evening!

We baptize adults in our tradition, and there's something amazing and healing - that's a great word - about seeing broken adults fall under the water and rise up. In that moment, there is such victory and hope and optimism - and we all cheer, loudly. It's really cool to relate the two - infant baptism and adult - in my mind...