Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christian Baptism (10/18/07)
TITLE: In His Father's Arms
By Beth Muehlhausen
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I lingered in the narthex where a glass wall separated me from the sanctuary. Since this baptismal ceremony would be conducted differently than any I’d previously witnessed, I preferred to distance myself while observing others’ preparations.
Breathtaking artwork greeted me from the other side of the glass - exquisite paintings adorning the walls, ceiling, and an enclosure surrounding the altar. The blues, reds, and metallic gold seemed bright, deep, and inspiring. Ornate stained glass windows framed the room with colorful splashes of subdued light. The sanctuary appeared to be a studio decorated by a master artist in honor of the God of all creative genius.
Soon a muffled shriek pierced the air to jostle my inner reverie. On the other side of the glass, three-year-old Alan’s voice cut through the quiet with blood curdling insistence. Alan’s distressed mother shushed him, but the cries continued, plaintive and real – not at all akin to the whining and pouting typical of temper tantrums. To accompany his vocal protest, Alan flailed his arms and legs like eggbeaters while his parents insisted he change from street clothes into swimming trunks in preparation for his baptism by immersion.
He refused to be quieted, and screamed and fought with mounting intensity.
Others like myself milled about and whispered to each other. “Poor kid – I wonder what upset him?”
Involuntarily I glanced upward where all-knowing faces peered down on the scene from overhead frescos as if to say, “Relax - you are all under our care.”
As the ceremony commenced I joined the throng gathering by a freestanding tub - something resembling a pioneer cooking pot - in the front of the sanctuary. Elegantly robed attendants clustered around with towels, and one ceremoniously added a vial of water brought from the Jordan River by Alan’s parents.
Secure in the arms of his father - his refuge - Alan’s cries subsided to jerky after-sobs. As the traditional baptismal liturgy commenced, Alan seemed to relax his bear-hug-hold with a sense of acceptance borne of trust.
This time I intentionally looked upward into the eyes overhead. Perhaps those frescos were right!
When Alan was finally lifted into the tub feet-first with a giant heave-ho, he grabbed its edges with both hands and began rocking with quick little jerks – a playful gesture much like you might expect from a boy testing his parameters. Just how much could he shake this thing before it would tip? Would he get in trouble? The water jumped in little waves at his command.
Then he disappeared under the water’s surface - was whisked down and up by experienced hands, and then proclaimed baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wrapped in a thick towel and safely back in the arms of his father, Alan seemed wide-eyed but unshaken.
Later at the luncheon in the church basement, adult conversation flowed freely. With the spotlight focused away from him, Alan seemed happy to run in and out of tables with other little playmates. I noticed he also periodically revisited the dessert table and retreated to a reclusive spot to hurriedly enjoy his spoils before being discovered.
After snitching several cookies, Alan bravely served himself a very large piece of chocolate cake decorated lavishly with frosting roses, and headed off to his quiet corner. I decided to approach him without scolding, hoping for an honest answer to a question.
“So Alan, why were you crying before you baptism? Did something scare you?”
He stopped chomping in mid-bite and looked from side-to-side as if fearing someone might steal his cake. When no one did, he swallowed hard and then looked at me intently. “I … ummm … was reeeeeally scared.” His eyes bugged out with remembered fright and he laid his plastic fork gently on the table. “I thought … ummm … maybe it was my turn … to hang … like Jesus does … on that big cross ...”
I thought of the bleeding, life-sized crucifix he referenced in the sanctuary upstairs. Alan stared intently at his remaining cake, and then into my eyes. “I didn’t want oww-ees in my hands like Jesus, Gramma.” Then more pensively, “I didn’t want to die … and I didn’t.”
I gazed at Alan’s cherub-like face, confounded by the profundity of childlikeness.
Alan would suffer, and even die, when it was “his turn.” By God’s grace he might also know rescue in his heavenly Father’s arms in the years ahead, and throughout eternity.
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