This is the first in a series of posts that I hope to make, entitled "Letters to My Dear Sophia," which I intend as a compilation both for my daughter when she grows up, but for you as you raise your children, and think about yourselves in the oft-parental relationship to your heavenly parent. My intent is that, through reading these letters to my daughter and the intense love I have poured into them, you might hear an echo of the kind of love and hope that God has for all of us.
Letters to My Dear Sophia: When You Go to the Waters
Today is your baptism day, and you are three months and one week old today. The last three months have been a whirlwind of getting to know you (even though I knew you as you knit in my womb), of helping you learn to understand the world a little more each day, and today marks the beginning of a completely new adventure in which you learn to see a totally new world from the one you were born into. Ordinarily, I would have had you baptized as soon as possible, but I had to find a weekend that would work for the people that I most wanted to support you in your baptismal promise, my dear friend Rusty, a fellow minister and his wonderful wife Lynette, who I know will be a powerful influence in your life of faith, as well as my parents, who so shaped me into the woman I am today. Because baptism is not just about you and me and your father, but about you and the God that I will teach you about and help you come to know and love, and about all the people who will be your teachers and guides throughout your life: your church community, the body, and about a whole new world.
A few weekends ago, I attended your new church's baptism orientation, the point of which is to get some basic education about what baptism is (as a minister, I think I have this down pretty well) and to get to know a few other families whose babies are also going to be baptized into this fellowship of believers. Your pastors, Bradley and Javen, asked us why we wanted to have you baptized. As I sat there, I realized that I had no way of giving a complete answer in a timely manner. I rattled off something about community and being held up in hope during difficult times in your life, but that's such a pale explanation compared to all the things in my heart for you right now.
Although you only gently cooed during your baptism, one of the things that I love about baptism is when the babies give one of those wonderful full throated cries at the sudden discomfort of having his or her little head drenched with what I imagine is relatively cold water. Not that I take pleasure in the discomfort of babies--though probably some who know me well would accuse me of that--but that it's so perfectly fitting for the occasion. After all, what is more appropriate than an ear-splitting scream upon the day of your death? That's really what this is, you know. This baptism that we have so casually, calmly signed you up for is your death, the big one, the one in which we, your mom and dad and grandparents and godparents, say on your behalf that we promise you will die, have died, and are dying to the old world, the old way of things. Not just your old self, but to all the old things. The old world that you were born into, full of old sorrow and old despair and old hopelessness and helplessness and decay and chaos.
You will learn more about this guy as you get older, but there was once a theologian named Martin Luther, and he talked a lot about how as Christians we live in two worlds at the same time. We live in this physical world, where we're subject to all the suffering and evil that exists in it because of the stain of death here, but at the same time, those of us who have been baptized into God's world, the new world, simultaneously inhabit the world that is what God intended it to be at the very beginning, and what God promises it will be again. How is this possible? It's because of the miracle of Christ's love for us, and God's presence through the Holy Spirit in your life and in all those around you. When that water was poured on your head, the Holy Spirit came with it, to make a bridge connecting you to this world, now, and that world that is coming, the "not yet."
So what I wish for you, my precious little one, is that you have a death. You have a death to all those things which would try to make you selfish and hard and closed off, and that you subsequently have a life, one made richer by understanding both suffering and joy, tears and laughter, death and resurrection. I want you to have a life full of trying and struggling, and sometimes failing, so that you can better taste the sweetness of victory. I want you to have a life that sometimes breaks your heart, though it breaks my heart to think of you in pain, so that because of who you know you are in your friend Jesus, you may fully understand healing, and that your heart may be made softer, more open to the pain around you, so that you may pour that love which has healed you onto those around you. On this day of your baptism, I wish for you to love fully, joyfully, and hopefully, and to learn what it means to be loved so much that somebody would die for you, as Jesus did, and as I would for you. I want you to have all shame about the failures you will have, the bruises you will earn, and the pain you will suffer to be washed away in those waters to be replaced by the understanding of just how precious you really are. I hope that you will learn to follow Christ passionately, and pursue that which you have been called to be and do as a child of God and a sister of Christ, because you know that your hands do make a difference in bringing about that not yet realm.
Mostly, though, I hope your old eyes die, to be replaced by eyes which see not that which is, but that which can be. That you learn to experience the renewal and every-day births that come in the midst of all the bad stuff. I will never forget that you are the baby that came to me so, so soon after having said goodbye to another baby, and because of that you are special. You are my life-baby, my daughter who came to me as if blown in by the storm that broke my heart, who healed my grief and showed me that there really is new life. I hope your heart doesn't have to be broken like mine has in order to understand this, but that in your baptism you will stare with new eyes at all your little disappointments and losses and learn to see where God's hand was doing a new thing.
Today you went to the waters of baptism, and came out a new child, and this is my prayer for you: that your eyes always see the beauty of that new world. Welcome to your new life, little one. I'll do my best to help you live fully in it.