Today is my son Thomas’s baptismal anniversary: he was baptized on Sept 10, 2006. We had a nice little dinner with him tonight. I also thought I’d republish this post I wrote on my personal blog when he was an infant as a commemoration.
In the Roman blessing of the water in a baptismal font, there’s a particularly interesting stanza that I’m looking at for my dissertation today. You’ll have to pay attention to the emphasis, so read it aloud.
At the very dawn of creation
your Spirit breathed on the waters,
making them the wellspring of all holiness.
When read slowly aloud, “Spirit breathed” comes out big and bold in the middle of those three lines. Reflecting on that has reminded me of one of Thomas’s most surprising habits. It’s so surprising to me, in fact, that I don’t really expect anyone else to believe me, but I’ll write about it here anyway.
It started when Thomas was younger, and Matt, of course, noticed it first. I was staying up after Matt and Thomas were in bed to work on my dissertation, and then I’d come to bed around one or two and lie down. Thomas would be sound asleep, but inevitably (Murphy’s law, right?) he would wake up just as I fell asleep and want me to pick him up. This seemed to happen every night, but I pretty much assumed it just seemed that way because I was tired.
That is until the night I was crabby and complained to Matt about it (he, unusually, had also woken when I came to bed): “It seems like he always wants to be cuddled and nurse right as I’m falling asleep!” Very matter-of-factly, Matt replied, “Yeah, he does. I’ve listened when I was awake as you were falling asleep. As soon as your breathing changes and I know you’re asleep, he wakes up and cries. I think he recognizes that breathing pattern and it makes him want to cuddle.” I stared at him. “Really?” “Sure,” he said. “Remember, he knows your breathing from being in the womb. I’m sure he hears it even in his sleep.”
Less surprisingly, it works the other way: if Thomas isn’t really sure he’s tired, but he’s cuddling with me and I fall asleep, he does too, especially if he’s lying where he can feel my chest rising and falling.
What does all this mean for the Spirit breathing and baptism? Well, the Spirit has always been the “breath” of Christian identity — the unexamined, but still disciplined (think about swimmers and singers) root of all Christian activity, the foundation of human communication, the mark of life. Baptism, through that little involuntary “catch” of the breath when the water impacts, captures all this and makes it holy. When we become children of God, we come to be attuned to the rhythm of the waters of creation, the breathing of Christ, through his Spirit.
One might say we begin to return to the womb of Christ, to become enfleshed with him, “one body of Christ,” as child and mother share one body before the child’s birth. When we breathe, when we speak, we use Jesus’ breath. When he holds his breath from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, all hold their breath; as one ancient homily has it, “the whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”
So all the baptized should listen for the rhythm of Christ our Mother’s breath. And we’ll all keep breathing.