A set of stairs wrapped around the wings of the stage, where we stood in single file obscured from view. We’d each slipped a thin white shift of fabric over our heads, and stood shivering in the space between the congregation and the huge tub of water on display. We stood like a row of musical notes, our different heights climbing up and down the scale, until it dipped down to reach me, a single note at the bottom of the staff.
At eight years old, I was the youngest of those who had signed up for baptism.
Prior to that Sunday, my parents asked me repeatedly if I was sure about my decision. Between afternoon cartoons or while I munched my morning cereal, my mom would slide a question my way, making sure my decision was one of the heart and not simply a parroting of words I’d overheard in grown-up conversations.
I answered each question from a place of uncomplicated faith. I loved Jesus, and baptism was simply the next step in my friendship with Him. My parents were satisfied with my answers, and weeks later, I found myself waiting in the baptismal wings in that line of notes strung along like a love song to Jesus.
I took a deep breath when the pastors called me forward, and another when they submerged my body under water. I rose up from the water appearing like the same eight-year-old I was minutes before, only imperceptibly different on the inside. After church, I ran around with a wet head looking for my church friends, while my parents wrangled my siblings.
Nothing had changed, and yet, so had everything.
I have three children of my own now, all much older than my wee self at eight. When I look back at photos of them in elementary school, I remember how young they seemed at the time. How innocent and untested. How silly and sweet. Life with eight-year-olds is a blur of color and noise and laughter. I don’t remember many deep conversations reviewing the tenets of our faith, sacramental language, or big words used to explain difficult concepts of spiritual transformation.
I remember wondering if they truly understood what baptism symbolizes when my two oldest decided to be baptized on a family trip to Israel.
Like my parents, I questioned my children for sure answers. How quickly we forget that the Holy Spirit woos the hearts of young and old alike. I’d forgotten the sincerity and simple faith of my youth, and how the Spirit is alive and at work in us at every age and stage of life. We baptized two of our children in the Jordan River, while fellow pilgrims sang hymns while waiting for their turn. I snapped photos of my kids in their thin white shifts, wide smiles, hair dripping. I wondered what memories they would carry with them, and if this moment was one of faith defined or just another adventure on a family vacation.
When we piled back into the car after our visit, my husband called everyone’s name to be sure we were all present and accounted for. When he called my son’s name, my boy replied from the back seat, “He’s not here anymore, Dad.” To which my husband replied, “That’s right, buddy!”, as I blinked back tears.
A new child had risen out of the brackish water while I took photos and wrangled his little sister.
Nothing had changed, and yet, so had everything.Leave a Comment