Baptism in the Wilderness

The afternoon sun streams gently through the stained glass windows, leaving puddles of jewel-toned light here and there among the pews.  

The smell of incense lingers in the air from Mass, and all the members of the family pause and inhale it deeply as they quietly and reverently enter the Sanctuary.  Older children help little children dip their fingers in the holy water fonts, signs of the cross are devoutly made, and the crowd of loved ones spends a few moments in silent prayer, kneeling before the Tabernacle, waiting for the baptism to begin.

Baptism!  The baby, wearing the gown that’s been in the family for a century, looks solemn, as if she understands the gravity and joy of the event.  The baby’s siblings look on with wonderment and awe, proudly welcoming their new baby sister to the Church family with silent well wishes.  

Grandmothers and Grandfathers hold hands in the pews, smiling gently at the miracle of new life.  Aunts and Uncles, holding scores of cousins, bask in the glow of family.  Everyone listens to Father as the baptism starts, everyone is in rapt, hushed attention, and if you listen you can ever-so-faintly hear the choirs of angels singing songs of welcome for the newest little saint.


Aaaand then there’s baptism Clan Donaldson style.

John did baptize in the wilderness…

Mark 1:4

The rain had stopped, at least.  Connecticut shed its crypt-like dankness two days before, and the sun had burned off the damp.  Everything outside was brilliant emerald green, and while our parish doesn’t have stained glass windows, the light pouring into the Sanctuary was still jewel toned and lovely.

Since Ford hasn’t seen fit to move us back to Michigan or Mississippi, that means family was woefully absent (closest relatives, 6.5 hours away- farthest ones, 45 hours) so other than the eight of us, there was the baby’s godmother, flown in from Mississippi, and our neighbors.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all were there via the wonders of Facebook, Instagram, telephone, and imagination.

The baptism was at 12:30, and we made the mistake of taking the kids to the 11 o’clock Mass.  This, of course, meant that 5/6ths of them were completely and totally ready to escape the forced silence, hissed threats, and under-the-pew pinches that is synonymous in their minds with church, and yet there was still another hour to endure.

Do I even need to tell you that behavior did not improve?

The nine year old had to be told not to gallop down the aisle toward the Tabernacle, even if she was pretending to be a Catholic horse who wanted to say hello to Jesus.  The six year old and four year old played a energetic round of “slam the kneelers” with the neighbor boys.  The three year old, reading the writing on the wall, realized that he was going to be expected to sit quietly for another endless amount of time and began to thrash and wail.

Father surveyed all this with equal parts horror and resignation.  St. John in the Wilderness indeed.

Ken, Godmother Janice, baby Veronica and I went to sit in the front row, as directed by an increasingly distracted priest, while our neighbor sat several pews back with the boy posse, trying to convince The Jude that I was not, in fact, leaving him forever.

The two year old began screaming at the top of his lungs, and earned himself entry into the front pew.  He happily began to play a solo round of slam the kneelers.

The nine year old had been enlisted by Father to server as a helper, tasked with handing him the oil of Catechumens and Holy Chrism.  I tried very very very hard not to launch into full scale freakout mode, so certain was I that the girl would fumble the oils, send them crashing to the floor, and woosh! there goes the parish supply of holy oils for the year.

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Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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