Stories from the baptistery

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By David Whitlock

Connor rocked back and forth on his heels, biting his lip as his eyes darted back and forth, scanning my office.

It was his baptism day.

“It’s OK to be nervous,” I said, trying to put him at ease as he left my office with his parents on the way to the baptistery.

His father had warned me earlier that Connor was anxious about being baptized.

“He’s worried that you’re going to ask him a lot of questions,” his dad had grinned.

I understood, for I had been close to Connor’s age, 8, when I was baptized. Like Connor, I was an outgoing child, but the day I stood next to the pastor and made what we in my faith tradition call a “profession of faith” before being baptized, I was more than a bit fidgety: I felt like bolting and running. When the pastor introduced me in front of the congregation, I tried scooting behind him and hiding.

“Connor, I won’t ask you any questions other than the two we’ve already talked about, OK?”

He exhaled in relief.

But I could hear his voice quivering once we were standing outside the baptistery: “Is the water hot?”

I let him dip his hands in to test it.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” is the lead sentence in Joan Didion’s essay, The White Album. The sentence became the title for her collected works, I suppose, because it is so pregnant with meaning. In one simple sentence, it addresses the complex nature of life and how we yearn to glean some order or purpose from the ambiguities that surround us daily. We do that by telling ourselves stories, “in order to live,” Didion wrote.

“And sometimes in order to relieve tension,” I thought as I watched Connor clasping and unclasping his hands.

I looked at the ladies who assisted with the baptism, but stood close to Connor to make sure he heard my story.

“One time, when I was in a different church, I was about to baptize a guy about Connor’s age,” I said as I placed my hand on his head. 

“What I didn’t know was that the custodian had gotten the water way too hot. When the boy stepped into the water he screamed like a cat that got its tail caught in the door, and everyone in the congregation looked toward the baptistery to see what was going on.

“Yeeouh, I can’t do it,” he yelled after he jerked his foot out of the hot water.

“What did you do?” one of the ladies helping Connor asked.

“Well, his grandparents had driven several hours to see the baptism that morning. So, I told some of the men in the church to let the water cool while I preached, an and then after my sermon, we would have the baptism. I gave the men strict instructions to fill several buckets with ice. They were to wait until the music was playing and the people were singing during the invitational hymn, and only then were they to throw the ice into the water.”

“What happened?” Connor asked.

“The men missed their cue. Just when I had everyone bow their heads and close their eyes for prayer, just at that tender and quiet moment in the worship service when I ask people to make decisions for Christ, lo and behold if the men didn’t throw all that ice into the baptistery. The audience heard a big crash like a glacier had collapsed, leaving them looking at each other, wondering, ‘What in the world was that?’ But I did get the little guy baptized, and everything worked out.”

By now, Connor was giggling.

“Watch your step,” I cautioned Connor as we entered the baptismal waters.

“Connor, did you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?”

Without the slightest hesitation in his voice, Connor responded, “Yes, sir.”

“Do you choose to be his follower, his disciple?”

“Yes sir,” Connor declared.

When Connor looked up to me just before I lowered him into the water, he didn’t need to say anything more because the peace in his eyes bespoke the presence  of the one in whose name he was about to be baptized.

“I’m proud for you, Connor,” I said as we exited the baptistery.
“Now you’ve got a story to tell about the day you were baptized.

Remember to tell it, “ I added.

And I believe he will.

For we indeed tell stories in order to live.

And, sometimes, to relax a bit and take in the story we are living in the moment.

Contact David B. Whitlock at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com