Today I baptized you. You were more excited about the party afterwards than the duty itself, but you had a particular interest in the proceedings. You wanted it to happen in church instead of the pool next door – strange for an introvert – and for a moment you seemed to like the crowd. We had rehearsed all the details. It’s about Jesus forgiving your sins, and new life, and don’t goof around just because everyone is watching, and Papa might cry, and it doesn’t magically forgive you, it’s just a symbol, and hold your nose when you go backwards so you don’t get water in there. It’s sort of a strange mix of cosmic theological truths and nitty gritty pragmatics.
Faith is kind of that way. You can only imagine what the sovereign creator of the universe must want to say to us when we’re born. “Now remember, I’ve already died for you for your forgiveness, stay close to me, look both ways before you cross the street, live by faith not by sight, say your prayers, and don’t swim right after you eat.” God has made us these fleshy spirits, and his will for us is a messy mix of cosmic truth and daily hygiene.
Part of the reason baptism is so beautiful because it is, as Augustine said it and no one has improved on his description since, a visible sign of an invisible grace. It is the tangible washing of dirt mixed with the holy confirmation of cleansed sin. It’s exactly what flesh and spirit need to speak the same language at the same time. Sacraments are like phone wires from our bodies to our souls.
Fatherhood is a fleshy-spiritual kind of thing. My deepest longings for you are that you would know Jesus, and that you would get married, that you would walk in peace, and that you would have good friends, that you would pray hard and that you would run fast. I hope we learn to pray for each other as surely as we play catch. And I’m touched that even if we weren’t related, we would still be best friends. I have deep hopes for you, body and soul, and I’m thankful today that God came up with this amalgam of flesh-spirits that we are. I wouldn’t want to miss out on either one.
Your dad can’t control all that happens to your body in a jagged world. I can’t control your soul – because certain things can only happen in the conversation that you and God will have together, with me listening in through the door. But I can drop you beneath the waters, accepting the reality that there is a part of all of us that must die, and then pull you back up to the life that I hope you will find. I can raise you in a house where we pray, read the book, worship, and believe. And I can point you in the direction of Jesus, who joined us in the messy package for spirit and flesh.
“Remember to fan into flame the gift that God gave you at the laying on of my hands. God hasn’t given you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-disciple. And don’t ever be ashamed of Jesus, or of his servants. Instead, join me in enduring all things for the gospel, by the power of God.” -2 Timothy 1:6-8
2 thoughts on “On the baptism of my son”
Captivating. Made me think of baptizing our three oldest when they were teens in the Pacific at Corona del Mar. “Heaven came down and glory filled our souls” that Sunday afternoon, and the warm glow lingers to this day. Koen will never forget it, nor hopefully wander from it. Thank you for reminding us of how powerfully such a simple act proclaims the essence of the gospel.
Jim this made me cry, so I can only imagine what it did to you. I’m excited for Koen!