BY BRIAN DOYLE
Went to a baptism the other day, in a lovely old empty echoing church, on one of those brilliant afternoons when the sun comes in through the old mullioned windows so powerfully it looks like gold bars or huge beams of butter.
I am the baptismer, said the tall priest with a smile, and this is our baptismee, in the lovely white frilly dress. His name is Vincent, as you know.
The baptismee was a couple of months old and just past the stage where infants all look like Yoda. The baptismee, in fact, was just hitting his first serious growth spurt, what with all his magic mother’s milk, and it seemed like all of his first growth had gone to his head, for his head was tremendous, and his eyes, wide open in amazement at the huge gold bars of butter in the church, looked to be the size of baseballs, from where I was standing in the back.
That kid needs a postcode for his head, said the man next to me, quietly.
The godparents hustled up to the altar and the young godfather, niggling at what was probably the first necktie he had worn since his First Communion, said we do! when the priest said hello, which got a general laugh.
The priest buckled down to business but he did so with such an easy grace that I was moved and proud of what a great priest can do. He managed to get in a good deal of church history and custom and belief about why we were baptising this new boy, while never being in the least ponderous or pompous or officious or formal about it.
He was relaxed and funny. He turned ritual into celebration. He asked everyone to come on up on the altar for heaven’s sake and touch the boy, give him your blessing, pray for him with your fingers for a moment, because Christ was skin and bone like us, remember, and then he asked all children to stay gathered closely around the baptismee, because it would relax the boy to have his fellow small tribe around him, and also if Vincent squirmed and plummeted, you young folks have lightning reflexes, so if he dives for the floor, catch him like a big baseball, which also got a general laugh.
That kid will have a head like a suitcase if he keeps growing at this rate, said the man next to me.
Some children, when you baptise them, said the priest, they pee like horses, so you probably want to stand back a little, just in case, but Vincent, I note, is not wailing or asleep, which gives me hope that he will be a continental boy, so to speak. He must have excellent parents.
Why is the baby wearing a dress if he is a boy? said a small girl suddenly, which got another laugh.
As the priest anointed the baptismee with oil the baby squirmed a little and the priest said, well, we were aiming for a cross there on his head, and I think we got closer to a Star of David, but Christ was Jewish, you remember, so we will also apparently be honouring our parent stock this afternoon. We could try to anoint Vincent again but I think we got close enough the first time for it to count, don’t you?
The godparents made the usual promises, and the parents made sure to give the boy the name they had agreed to give him when they met him face to face for the first time, and the priest noted that Vincent was a cool name because there were excellent saints named Vincent and the boy would have a sort of posse or entourage among saintly men of that name, which couldn’t hurt as he grew into his glorious and holy lifetime.
That kid has a head bigger than a basketball, said the man next to me, who turned out to be the boy’s grandfather, a Navy veteran who had spent twenty years in submarines and once baptised a child on a beach in Vietnam for reasons he did not wish to explain at length in the church although he said perhaps later over a beer.
When all the baptism was complete the priest held out the baptismee like a championship trophy and we all reached out and touched him again, and while he did indeed have a head like a pumpkin, it was his broad smile that stays with me.
He looked really pleased and proud, even with a sort of Cross of David on his head, and you could see his feet kicking happily against the bottom of his frilly white dress. Then the priest gave Vincent back to his parents and everyone shook hands and there were a few minutes of milling and laughing and then everyone repaired back to the house for a beer.
On the way to the house I thought about how our church is these little sweet honest funny moments more than it is everything else, and how I love that, and how these little sweet honest funny moments are so holy I cannot easily find words for it, which is why we share stories, which is what we just did. Amen.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon, USA. His most recent book os Grace Notes, a collection of spiritual essays.
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