Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adrift in this water.

I've been re-reading and re-experiencing Sara Miles' brilliant book "Take This Bread" this last week. Thinking a lot about food and feeding people and life and faith and all the places that life and faith and food and feeding people seem to intersect.

I've also been thinking a lot about the sacrament of baptism over the course of this last year, and tonight, as I was laying here reading from one of the last chapters of "Take This Bread", some comments on baptism again caught my attention, speaking deeply to my heart.

Miles tells of standing near the baptismal font of her church with a little girl who had come to the food pantry that Miles had started in the church. She writes:

Sasha looked at me, not smiling. "Is this the water God puts on you to make you safe?" she demanded abruptly, in a strangely formal voice.

I put down my boxes. What was she asking for? Was I being asked to baptize her? My mind raced, flashing back to when I'd stood at the font for my own baptism just a few years ago.

Nothing about the water had made me safe. It had pushed me further out from the certainties and habits of my former life...I was no less flawed or frightened or capable of being hurt than I'd been before my conversion, and now, in addition, I was adrift in this water, yoked together with all kinds of other Christians, many of whome I didn't like or trust.

How could I tell this child that a drop of water could make her safe? I had no idea what Sasha was going through at home, but I suspected it was rough. And baptism, if it signified anything, signified the unavoidable reality of the cross at the heart of Christian faith. It wasn't a magic charm but a reminder of God's presence in the midst of unresolved human pain.

I remembered what Lynn Baird had asked me, when I was contemplating baptism.

"Do you want it?" I asked.

Sasha locked her eyes on me. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I want that water."

There was something so serious in her face that it stopped me cold. I dipped my fingers into the font, and Sasha turned her face up to me, concentrating. I made the sign of the cross on her forehead.

(Take This Bread, pg. 236-37)