A week ago yesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a little girl--not more than five years old--in my church community. At St. Columba, baptisms of children most often take place in the midst of Sunday Mass, a ritual choice that affirms that baptism isn't just an act of/for an individual, but an act of/for a faith community.
The little girl's baptism reminded me of why I opted not to have my daughter baptized as an infant. Instead of being invited to take part in the life of the community by going through baptism, my daughter was invited into the community by entrance into the child catechumenate. My daughter is, at not quite two years old, a catechumen--a journeyer and increasingly critical learner--moving toward acceptance of baptism into Christ.
Why would a parent choose the catechumenate over infant baptism?
Some contemporary Catholic theologians would argue that not to baptize an infant is to fail to put faith in God's ability to grace all humans, regardless of the ability for a person to say yes, I choose this. For me, however, the question isn't about doubting God's grace. In fact, I would argue that God graces all of creation with an abundance beyond human imagining. If that is so, then baptism is not for God's sake, but for the sake of those baptized. If that is the case, then the ability to remember the experience of baptism is of great importance indeed--not to become "more graced" but to be shaped by the richness of memoried identity.
It is simple: almost universally, a baby fails to remember its infancy. A child or adult may remember a life-changing experience her whole life. Our vividest memories are the stuff of our personal stories. To be told who I am is one part of my identity, but I am not merely who I am told that I am; I am also who I choose to be. I am who I actively embody in smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. If I remember the dark, breath-taking plunge into water; if I remember the sweet fragrance and moist touch of oil on my forehead, eyelids, ears, lips, hands, feet, and heart; if I remember my first taste of a morsel of baked bread and the warmth of wine; then I will remember that I have become Christ, from the cleansing, enveloping, womb of water to precious healing oil gently applied to food and drink to sate hunger and thirst.
I remember my baptism in one way--as someone who went through it without memory of it and who experiences it vicariously through the baptisms of others. That has become meaningful ever since I first experienced symbol-rich liturgy eleven years ago; it is also meaningful because I have been privileged to study the many facets liturgy at length as a graduate and doctoral student. I discovered my baptism as a profound event in my life two decades after it occurred.
For my daughter? I want her to know what it means to become Christ as she is becoming Christ. I want her to have her very own memories of being baptized, not just think about what her baptism must have been like as she watches others go through it. I want her to know--without having to jump through mental hoops--what baptism is as it washes over her, and to feel its enormous power as it soaks into her skin.
I can hardly wait to stand by my daughter when/if she chooses to be baptized. You will never have met a prouder mama on that day--ever.
What are your thoughts on baptism?If your child or godchild was baptized as an infant, what are your thoughts/memories on it now? If you were baptized as an infant, how does your baptism resonate or not in your life? If you have memories of your baptism, how do those impact your life?All experiences are welcome here.