The only time of year my father would go to church would be on Easter. He said he could relate to coming back from the dead. We’d go to the Catholic church because he much preferred the extra pomp and circumstance than the laid back spirituality of the Protestant church my mom and sister and I usually went to. Perhaps it is from him that I got my love of tradition and ritual, and it is in honor of him that we had our baby baptized on his favorite holy day.
Olive’s baptism was exactly the kind of ritual my father would have loved — ancient, mysterious, filled with beauty, witnessed by loving people and finished with a toast. I had never been to an Easter Vigil service before, and found all of the symbolism deeply moving. First we went outside to light the New Fire, and my inner Aries leapt with delight. Olive was in her Baptismal gown & bonnet, which were the same ones that I wore when I was a baby, and my sister before me. There was even a tiny spit-up stain on the shoulder that one of us had left behind, proof that she and I were once tiny babes like Olive. Anyway the gown is light and short-sleeved and she had already kicked her shoes off so I was a little worried for her with her bare feet in the typical San Francisco bluster.
Of course she was fine, actively watching the proceedings — from the Eternal Fire they lit the Paschal candle, and then everyone was handed a little candle to process in with. The acolyte banged on the wooden church doors with a heavy staff in the shape of a cross, so hard that he left a mark, reminding me of a wizard. Then the doors were flung open and we processed into the darkened church, our candles the only light to guide us.
When we got to the Baptism part of the service, Joel and I presented Olive, and said vows on her behalf. I loved being asked “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” I don’t know if Satan exists, but just in case, yes, I renounce him! I felt like I was in a 1960/70’s occult movie (Rosemary’s Baby/The Exorcist/The Omen), minus the projectile vomit and possessed children. I also appreciated the vows in the affirmative, to which we answered “I do.” It reminded me so much of my wedding, only now I was holding our child rather than having my hands crushed by my husband’s nervous clasp. My favorite one was, “Do you put your whole trust in (God’s) grace and love?” My “I do” was a promise in faith. I don’t always do this — I worry, I stress, but I let my “I do” be like a prayer — yes, I want to put my trust in grace, in love, and in doing so be a better parent to my child. Then we asked the congregation to help us guide her spiritually, and they said vows as well. We did this at our wedding too, and I believe inviting our community to actively help us has held us up over the years. Then we said an amazingly sweet prayer for Olive’s life, call and response style. I believe I will pray it over her again and again. Paraphrasing here, we asked to deliver her, open her heart, fill her with spirit, keep her in faith, learn to love others, be sent into the world, and be brought into the fullness of God’s peace and glory. I could picture Olive’s life stretching out before her like a golden field, and felt a sense of the eternal all around me.
Then the water was blessed, and we thanked God for water. I loved how elemental this all was! The water was sanctified, using the Paschal candle, and then Olive was passed to the priest for the actual rite.
She disliked the water on her head but she loved the anointing, especially since we had the bonnet back on her to keep her warm. She stared at the priest, very alert and focused, as he made a sign of the cross with the oil on her forehead, sealing her in Love. Then she turned a blew a raspberry at the acolyte.
Back in our pew, singing an Easter hymn at the top of our lungs, I couldn’t believe we’d gotten to this place. A year and a half ago, I knew I was going to have a baby, but didn’t know I’d be getting her baptized, and wouldn’t have dreamed that it could have meant this much to me. I certainly never saw this community coming, with their wily ways of loving and supporting us. I felt our ancestors all around us, and said a silent prayer to them, thanking them for watching over us and being present with us in this space.
I felt an overwhelming urge to drink up the rest of the water in the baptismal fount. One Sunday we were receiving communion in a circle around the altar as we do for the combined service, and some of the bread fell to the floor. The retired priest who was standing next to me got down on his knees and ate every last crumb. I was slightly shocked but also deeply gratified by this act of devotion. I felt something similar — the desire to fully enter into this sacrament, to not let a single drop of it go to waste. Plus, I was thirsty. But of course I did not do this — this was Olive’s sacrament, and I was lucky enough just to be present for it. The priest went on that night to give an incredible sermon, in which he mentioned that in baptism we die with Christ and are raised with him as well. Since Olive had that scare with her health after her birth, I have been unduly terrified that she will die. I took solace in this symbolic death — maybe if I could take that in, I could be less afraid of her actual physical demise. She has already died with Christ, and been resurrected! She is in his hands. What I fear most has happened, and she has been raised up.