This past Sunday, I awoke too early for my taste. Rain was falling, the sky had a look in its eye that warned it would go on for days, and I had heard there were snowflakes in the city despite the green mist of buds spraying the trees, and the bravest most daredevil flowers proudly waving. What perfect weather for Spring.
Today holds added significance: I’m attending the baptism of my friend’s munchkin. My dearest girlfriend, forevermore known as Mabel, Mother of the Munch, will be standing up with my oldest and dearest friend, her boyfriend, taking their first public step as a family. My love is on my arm, handsome and of expansive heart; as we cross water coming into the city, the day is ripe for ritual.
As I’ve said before, rituals only have as much meaning and power as we ascribe to them. So what does this baptism really mean? Different things to all involved: for mom Mabel, it’s a meaningless ritual, though a benign one. It’s a chance to celebrate her son, but really it’s a pacifier for some of her family; for those people, the child (old enough to be offended if you call him a baby), is being rescued from the jaws of eventual and eternal damnation. To me it’s confirmation of new family ties, joined forces and futures. And I’ve been promised an after-party. And what’s a Lutheran, anyway?
I dig religion; different services and scriptures and comparative mythology get me all geeky (and sometimes even reverent), so I was pretty eager to see what was going on behind the doors of this church and steeple.
Personally, I’m born Jewish, with a Roman Catholic father more likely to quote Heinlein than the bible; my bindi is heartfelt, as our my cards and crystals (my Bubby taught me her old world ways). My boyfriend, proudly Jewish as long as I’ve known him, is getting over a lifelong case of atheism. Step-dad of the Little Dude identifies as “sort of christian”, and Mabel is a Pagan, Buddhist, scientist (please read that correctly: she believes in Einstein, not Tom Cruise). Together, we are the most elaborate straight line walking into the church. While I do hate to generalize, right off the bat these folks do not appear to be the laughing kind. I have the sudden sinking feeling that I’m trapped, and there’s no punchline out until somebody repents.
While I had been warned that there would be no soulful singing, nor any dervish whirling passion, in houses of worship – everywhere, in fact – I prefer hearts devoted in love, rather than obedient in fear. It seems that in some circles, vengeful gods are still very “in” this season, though from the looks of the pews, scary only makes for lineups at movies and roller coasters.
Regardless, I was still eager. Maybe I’d even take my first communion; it would be an auspicious day to do so. I almost took it once at a United service, but I was much younger, and felt I might regret it in hindsight. I’m sure now that I wouldn’t have in the slightest; it remains my favorite service.
Reading along in the hymnal, I knew the day wasn’t heading in that direction. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it: too much fear, too much sin, too much saving. I say this as someone who’s attended a Catholic funeral. Part of the baptism itself includes promising that the child be raised with fear of god. I almost crossed myself against that, and I’m only superstitious in the right light.
I admit that my mind closed a little when I noted the eagle on the pulpit, fierce and gold. Racing through every bible story I know and every half plausible excuse I can find (other than, you know, Nazis), I come up with “Maybe eagles eat snakes and so they’d win over evil in a game of cosmic Rock/Paper/Scissors”? Still, if there isn’t a biblical excuse, I’m sure a palatable myth-addendum has been put into place somewhere to make it legit? Either way, it wasn’t in the handout they gave me on my way in.
Disappointed but determined, I stared off into the painted clouds in the painted sky behind the altar, letting the songs fade into gibberish, when the organist began Ode To Joy. They were still singing, and now I was humming fervently, glad to have found a point I could go along with. I’m certain that this is the closest moment I will have of resonance within these walls. Silver Linings “R” Us. Amen.
Flowers, vines, and piles of leaves are carved into the ceiling, piled and protruding, and as I hang onto those bits, I get to thinking about the Green Man, his various faces carved across the globe. I heard once that Pagan builders embedded them in Christian churches so while they weren’t digging the details, they could pray there, out of the elements, to their own gods, never converting their hearts.
I smiled to the leaves, signs of life going right, and thanked the flowers, passing vessals of eternal beauty, and was sure that in the grand infinite tapestry, all was as it ought be, and these people who wished that peace be with me (and I with them), their intentions were as good as my own, even if their translation grated on me like nails on blackboards accompanying off-key trumpets. And somewhere in between here and eternity, details like that fade beyond memory, beyond everything, into nothing, and all that’s left is the space where a song was. May that song always be your Ode to Joy.
Nearly a week later, my thoughts still go out to the kid in front of me who was fussing, and playing (read: getting in trouble) the whole time, then only spoke up when the congregation was asked if they accepted Jesus, and this scamp, full confidence but no sass, quietly said “No”. He was summarily shushed by his adults. Good on ya kid, say what you feel. Go with God, and strength be with you; I doubt it’ll be an easy go.