A christening in winter

The latest priest, prophet, and king. January 2022.

Last week, we found out the day before my younger son's baptism that another family would be present. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal—after all, we'd shared my older son's baptism ceremony with another child—but we are not in normal times. My husband and I went into immediate panic mode. How many people would they bring? How would we know their vaccination status? What if they didn't have the latest masks or wanted to leave them off for pictures? And why in the world would we mix pods in the first place when the little guests of honor, the stars of the sacramental show, were by definition unvaccinated?

As familiar as this emotional roller coaster has become over the past 22 months, this incident felt worse. I was already grieving our dramatically altered gathering, but having it take place during a post-holiday variant peak in the dead of winter added insult to injury. Oh, you want to feel joy? I heard the universe sneer. Sure, have at it ... you'll just need to work 100x harder to achieve it.

When we baptized my older son the year before pandemic began, it was a true community affair: christening at the church, 50-person luncheon at our house, a whole day of visiting and picture-taking and loving on the newest little member of our faith community. At four months old he was oblivious, of course, to the love and support surrounding him, but we, his parents, felt buoyed by the tangible demonstration of the deep relationships in our lives, the friendships and connections that help us feel less alone in our daunting parenting adventure. He too was baptized on a frigid winter day, yet the cold barely registered, so encircled were we by warmth.

Compare this to our pandemic-era outing for child #2, where we had only grandparents and godparents at the church, and then only grandparents back for lunch because they're more safely in our pod. We ordered KN95s ahead of the event and asked everyone their comfort level with removing them for pictures near the baptismal font. We went so far as to stand outside in 20-degree weather, infant in arms, sans coats, so we could feel safer about taking a mask-less picture with his godparents. And in lieu of a party, I asked our far-flung loved ones to contribute short video messages conferring a blessing or well wish for him, with the intention of compiling it for his "digital memory box" so in the future he too knows how many people love him, and how much.

I cried to my husband in the days leading up to the event that I felt more stressed planning this teeny christening than I did the huge previous one, and I wasn't exaggerating. Nothing like the specter of grave illness to harsh your vibe, amirite?! Plus, I'm tired. Tired of decisions, tired of pivots, tired of sacrifice. Moments like my son's christening, moments that in a previous lifetime afforded me excellent excuses for celebration, now break my heart. Life feels shorter and more tenuous, and I hate constantly negotiating the delicate balance of wanting to soak up every opportunity for communion with people I love without accidentally hastening the end of our earthly time together.

But you didn't come to hear my tale of woe about the trauma we're all sharing. You came to hear the anecdote of the sweet 16-month-old girl baptized alongside my son who kept pointing at him and gleefully shouting, "Baby! Baby!" during the service. You came to high five me for acknowledging my emotional/temporal limits and asking the grandmothers to cook a nice lunch for our little party. You came to sit beside me as I watched video after video of our friends and family reading poems, saying blessings, pouring affection over the newest member of our faith community—no less adored for the distance, no less warmed by their love.

As the Catholic baptism rite says, "we welcome you with great joy." In times when joy feels so hard won, may I remember this outpouring and let it wash over me, hope renewed.

Prayer #374: Waters Hard as Stone

You've sent floods and split oceans, drawn from wells and washed dusty feet, anointed countless generations as members and disciples and seekers, yet right now you feel frozen to me.

Not all the way frozen, more like "Midwestern pond in January" frozen. Hard enough to support my skating weight, but fluid enough to pulse beneath the sliced veneer. I must remind myself as I glide that my repetitive steps are swishing me over creatures and currents I cannot see, forces with natures all their own.

God of unseen power, relax my anxious feet and help me focus on the blurry scene beneath them: the depth of your creation, the strength of your water.