On Saturday we celebrated Alice's baptism. It was a far lovelier thing than I had ever thought it would be.
Her christening gown has been hanging in our closet for several months. We kept it wrapped in its plastic hanger and carried it downtown to the church for the actual event. L and I changed her from her chic Baby Gap dress into her stately gown in a bathroom tucked away in some far-flung corner of the church, standing Alice up on the changing table to put on her slip and then button her into her dress. It took me a few minutes to work out all the pins holding the various pieces of the garment together. We added a bangle that LeeLee had given her, and tied her into some clean white booties, and the final touch was to add the little hat that draped over her head like a wimple. She looked like a cute little Hester Prynne of a girl. The shocking thing, though -- the thing that I genuinely did not expect -- was that she looked beautiful. Somehow the exorbitant dress and the funny bunched-up sleeve and her World-War-I-era-nurse hat all made sense. She looked beautiful and pure; it seemed like the foreshadowing of a wedding day, almost, and it reminded me of how the Church is supposed to be revered as the bride of Christ. I did not expect any of this.
She was remarkably calm through the whole ceremony. She played with the long cords dangling from the sides of the hat, wrapping them around her fingers and trying to eat them. When it came time for me to lower her over the baptismal font so that the priest could pour water on her forehead, she kept her eyes locked on him, calmly watching the entire thing. My grandfather said he never saw a better-behaved baby at a christening. The priest was friendly and kind, calling her "sweet Alice" and making sure the holy water was the right temperature before the sacrament began.
I was struck by the beauty of the language of the baptismal rite. Here are some parts that I found particularly lovely as the priest recited the words:
My dear brothers and sisters, God uses the sacrament of water to give his divine life to those who believe in him. Let us turn to him, and ask him to pour his gift of life from this font on this child he has chosen.
Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs, which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power. In baptism we use your gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament.
At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from his side as he hung upon the cross. And after his resurrection Christ told his disciples: "Go out and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Father, look now with love upon your Church, and unseal for them the fountain of baptism. By the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son. You created us in your own likeness: cleanse us from sin in a new birth to innocence by water and the Spirit.I was very happy the we decided to baptize our girl. I'm happy that she is a member of a faith community, even though I have many issues with the doctrine and with the way the current leadership has decided to engage the world. I'm glad we can tell her some day that it was important to us to welcome her into a formal relationship with God and community. I think sacraments are important things -- a way to measure life -- and I'm really happy we could give Alice her first one; that we could add her name to the rolls of a church, that we could hear a priest bless her as a member of this flawed yet hopeful flock, that we as an extended family could share a small moment of religious faith.
I'm also glad we will be able to show her the outpouring of love our little family received on the occasion. It meant a lot to us to see our parents, grandparents, siblings and friends gathered in that church on that beautiful Saturday.