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.