Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook/Personal: On the Baptism of Sophia Eileen

My niece Sophia, born this past April, was baptized on Sunday the 8th of July. She recieved her first sacrament. One day this will or will not be recognized as one of the most important days of her life. There was a sacrament: an invisible sign of an invisible reality. An act of grace that is efficacious in and of itself, with or without co-operation from her will or any other's.

I had a pleasant trip down in the company of family. I was saved the expense of renting a car for the weekend by an offer from the Sweeneys to catch a ride down to the festivities with them. I'd not seen them since Bill and Helen took me out for my birthday, and so Helen was eager for news and disappointed when I'd said that Jen and I were no longer dating. Becca gave me the low-down on the end of her freshman year at Madison and plans for studying in Ecuador next year, while Ben and I talked face-to-face for the first time in a year and since he arrived home from Argentina. We skipped the type of stuff we'd talked about talking about, though, looking ahead to going out and doing that on our own. We took a wrong exit or turn, but I grabbed the map and got us to the baptism with two minutes to spare, so I was satisfied that I'd earned something of my passage.

At the last minute, Leslie thrust her camcorder into my hands to record Sophia's baptism. I pressed "Record" (because I'm a genius) but after a moment the viewscreen was telling me to press something else as well. I bobbled around with this for a while, finally finding the itty-bitty tiny little button after Ben had finished the first reading, which was interestingly full of dedicatory Temple imagery from Ezekiel. The screen came back to life with the scene I was filming and all was good. Except that it turned out (as I found out after I'd gotten back to Milwaukee) that I was apparently supposed to press "record" yet again, and that I spent the entire service aiming the camera, zooming in and out, but not actually filming anything (because I'm a genius). And since hardly anyone shot any pics (since I was filming, I suppose – I certainly didn't try to operate my camera as well as the camcorder), Sophia is therefore without almost any record of her baptism, inheriting and fulfilling all the traditions of the youngest child. Thus I'm writing this account, for her to find one day on the vast archaeological plain of the Internet.

I couldn't help but think about how the rite would have looked to outside eyes. The deacon was rushing through the words of the rite. Sophia was full of a different kind of pneuma than she was about to receive, and was fussing and crying quite a bit. (Sorry, Greek joke: pneuma in Greek is the word for spirit, breath, and wind. She had a lot of gas, yesterday, from what I gathered, and was most unhappy about it.) Grace and Haley were climbing around. Readings were hard to hear over the crying and everything had kind of a ad-libbed quality to it. I had instinctual reactions where I immediately imagined how I could have put together the ceremony, particularly with the aid of a few Freeks or Folkheads. The delivery could have been done with reading that magnified the text. The use of space, of pauses and silence, could have turned the rite into an obviously and movingly spiritual experience for anyone present who didn't fight the mood. It wouldn't have been too hard, especially if you've been trained at the University of Notre Dame where liturgy is done as good as it is anywhere, and schooled in the silences of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

In fact, it was kind of a big, familial mess.

Now, don't get me wrong: that's not a criticism. It's family: it's always kind of messy. And, in fact, I quickly realized, the immensity of the sacrament might be even the greater when I consider how it was actually celebrated. Spirituality is not about feeling spiritual. It's not even about having spiritual experiences, in a sense. Like I said, it would have been easy to create a recognizably spiritual experience – maybe even one that would have been moving and memorable for everyone there. Certainly there would have been nothing wrong with having such an experience. But it had nothing to do with the spiritual significance of Sophia being baptized. A sacrament is efficacious. Nothing we did – for or against – had the slightest effect on the sacrament itself: it will have its effect on Sophia regardless. True spirituality is of the Spirit: it is of God, whether we admit that or not. True spirituality has nothing to do with making ourselves feel a particular way, particularly not the kind of self-contentment or self-improvement that is passed off as spirituality by the marketeers today. It's simply about drawing close to God, whether we feel that or whether we do not. It's good to feel and sense such things, usually, but what was important was the sacrament itself: Sophia was dedicated to the God whose name she bears. The fact that this can be done without bells and whistles, without screwing ourselves up to feeling spiritual and drawing satisfaction from those sensations – making "spirituality" about ourselves – well, that rather amazes me along with all the wonder of the thing itself. God comes to us once again in "bone and spittle and muscle and sweat," in all the mess of our lives.
Tags: catholicism, christianity, family, george and the freeks, grace and freedom/nature, mysticism/spirituality, notre dame folk choir, personal, pneumatology, rich mullins, sacramental, sophia, theological notebook

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