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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Wednesday, November 4

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands…
—2 Timothy 1:6

In her essay “An Expedition to the Pole,” Annie Dillard appears genuinely baffled by the cavalier approach that some of us take toward our faith. “On the whole,” she writes,

I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?…It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.

She has a point there.

When I was baptized, at the age of six, it was done by immersion in a metal-lined tank at the front of the church. High above the choir loft, the baptistery was normally hidden behind a burgundy-colored curtain, of crushed velvet I assumed. On its back wall was a mural of a pastel Jordan River, with a pastel Jesus raising his eyes toward an equally pastel sky. The whole thing seemed very antiseptic, very safe.

Because I was short—being only six at the time—I had to stand on an overturned washtub in order to be seen by the congregation below. This in itself wasn’t a problem, but when the preacher tipped me back and pushed me under the water, I fell off.

Fortunately, the long white robe I was wearing had fishing weights sewn into the hem to hold it down, but there’s still something indecorous about a child flailing her arms in the baptistery. I was certain I was going to drown.

Typically the sacraments of the church don’t create such alarm, but perhaps they should. “Outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual graces,” sacraments are both vehicles and symbols of God’s presence in the world. They remind us that God does indeed break into time, and that this interruption invariably leaves us changed.

Water, wine, and bread, a smudge of oil, a word, a hand placed gently on the head—it is in the ordinary elements of earth that God comes to us. The power, when we feel it, is more than our souls can contain.

O God, be present to us in the common fabric of our lives, in word and flesh, at the moment of our birth and at our death.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.