July 11 is the feast day of St Benedict, but to me it will always be the day in 2011 that I baptized my son Samuel. Born 3 1/2 months early, at 1 lb 13 oz, Samuel faced several surgeries and an uphill battle for life. He recently turned one, and his life and continued development proclaim a testimony of God's grace. As we kept folks updated on his progress through Facebook and other means, I wrote several essays on our experience. Here, slightly edited, is the essay on Samuel's baptism into the Body of Christ.
Yesterday, I performed a baptism. Since I'm an Anglican priest, that’s not terribly unusual (though to be honest, I don’t do it enough). It was the setting and the baptismal candidate that were different. Rather than a Sunday morning coordinated with fellow believers, family and friends, it was a Monday afternoon, a decision made two hours previously. Rather than a cooing (or howling!) baby presented in a long, white, baptismal gown, this infant moved feebly in a plastic-encased neonatal intensive care bed, wearing a tiny diaper, surrounded with lines and hoses. And it was my son.
I don’t baptize my children. I ask others to baptize my children. I wasn’t “legal” for Elijah and Jonah. I could have baptized Lily, but asked my friend and mentor Fr. Briane Turley to do it while I served as his assistant at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa. I wasn’t going to baptize this baby, either; I had planned to ask our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Alberto Morales, to do it on or around All Saints Day if Samuel had been born at his October due date. I don’t baptize my children. I made this decision before I was ordained, that my first role in the life of my children is as “Dad.” When they are baptized, I prefer my main role to be that of presenting them to Jesus as the spiritual leader not of my congregation but of my family, making the vows that I will indeed bring them up in the faith, that I will teach them God’s Holy Word, that I will bring them to God’s Holy Table. If in the future my children marry, I would prefer to be in the “Dad” seat in the front pew rather than standing as the minister. It’s just my preference—I don’t argue that anyone else should take such an approach. It's my way of saying that with my children, I am “Dad” first and “Father” second.
|If you look closely on Samuel's head,|
you can see a bead of the baptismal water
Samuel broke all the rules. When we learned yesterday the serious potential complications involved with Samuel’s procedure, I asked the doctor if I should go ahead and baptize him. She replied that she frequently recommends it for children born this premature, and suggested I talk to the nurse to arrange for the materials. A good Catholic hospital always keeps baptismal items close at hand! The nurses brought us a small bottle of sterile water and a shell (these items have now taken their place among our most prized possessions), and I indulged in the privilege of baptizing my fourth child. In the room with me and Rebecca were Elijah, Jonah and Lily, Joyce (Rebecca’s mom), Margaret (WIU student who lives in Peoria and has been helping so much with our children—who love her!) and Kathy, one of the nurses. Margaret and Kathy were taking pictures. Jonah and Lily stood with Rebecca and Joyce, and Elijah helped me (“Is this acolyting just like I do at church, Dad?” “Exactly, son.”). Like an obedient priest, I had a stole with me, even in NICU with my son—thanks be to God! My Bible and small BCP were in my bag. I abbreviated the baptismal liturgy, sticking with the blessing of the water, the baptism itself, the prayer of thanksgiving, and the mark of the Cross on his head (alas, no chrism). My hand was shaking as I dripped water from the tiny shell onto Samuel’s head; likewise as I made the sign of the Cross on the crown of his forehead, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Such a tiny head, such a fragile head, receiving the water of Baptism and the mark of the Cross: signs of life and death in a bed where the struggle between the two plays out before our very eyes.
While Samuel’s baptism was certainly administered under emergency circumstances, the Lord has been gracious to him and to us and the days continue. Today we sit in the room with a new member of the family of God, receiving the blessings of Fernando Ortega’s brand-new album, which includes a number of settings of music for the Eucharist. Music that drives us to the heart of the life of faith: God giving of himself in Bread and Wine. Additionally, I just realized today that Samuel’s baptismal day was the feast day of St Benedict. I think that our Benedictine bishop would approve!
So I finally baptized one of my children. He just better not ask me to officiate at his wedding: rules are rules, son.