by Noreen O'Brien
The day my sister told me she was pregnant, I caught up to what my eyes had seen without comprehending: "That's what’s different about her body.”
Her announcement arrived with a pained concession: “So...some vindication of your big-sister fears for me.” Yes.
And no. As the pregnancy unfolded I learned that at first she had decided that being a single-woman-in graduate school, orphaned and keeping an abusive boyfriend at bay, was reason not to give birth. But there she was saying yes—to the pledges and evidence of support from friends and family and to to the part of herself that wanted to be a mother.
Christia arrived, and soon after her mother asked if I would be her child’s godmother.
This year at Thanksgiving Christia told me that she and her husband were beginning to think about baptizing her 4-month-old daughter. “What is Baptism anyway?” she asked. And suddenly it was as if I was back 30 years...holding her in the community gathered around that fountain, singing the Prayer of St. Francis: “ Make me a channel of your peace.”
I remembered too that over the years as I’ve watched Christia grow, I’ve often thought how she embodies the prayer we had for her that day—the hopes we held for her as the water poured over her and the oil glistened on her little forehead in the light of the Easter candle and the taper decorated just for her.
by Sara Miles
Chris was the very first person to volunteer at the food pantry at St. Gregory's, more than fourteen years ago. He lived under the bridge back then, but Chris would always show up at church on Fridays at seven-thirty in the morning, and he’d help unpack and break down boxes and do whatever else was needed. He was a hard worker, and generous, and the kind of guy who teases people incessantly. “Kiddo,” Chris always greeted me. “Hey kiddo, what’s new?”
We all rejoiced when Chris got housing a few years back, in a SRO hotel. But then he had two heart attacks, and things went south. He started drinking more and more, going under, falling, dying. But he still showed up on Fridays at the pantry. He and I were hanging out in back by the font one afternoon, tying up stacks of flattened cardboard, and Chris said, sort of abashed, “I had a fight last night.”
“Who with?” I asked. “Are you OK?”
Chris pointed up to the sky. “Him,” he said. “I was yelling at God, like, how come it has to hurt so much? I know I’m a screw-up, but what did I do so wrong? “
He looked at me. “I’m just scared, Sara,” he said. “I don’t want to die alone.” He splashed his hand in the water. “So, what do I have to do to get this?”
“The water?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “I want it.”
Chris was hospitalized a couple of times, and I thought he might not make it. He appeared at church on Easter Day, though, wearing a nice shirt, accompanied by a friend from his hotel, and he clung to our hands as the congregation processed out to the font. He said, shakily, “I guess if God hasn’t struck me dead yet, I’m OK with him.”
The service took a while, since there was a baby, a ten-year old, and a high school boy to be baptized alongside Chris that day. We sang and cried and stood there holding on to each other, and afterwards I asked Chris how he felt. “It’s like I’m part of something bigger,” he said. “I’m still scared. But I don’t feel alone.”
By Cassie Ambutter
On the first Sunday of Advent 2012, I began to feel an internal pang that called me to walk into a church that morning. Outside the context of academic research, I had never willingly walked into a church on Sunday. In retrospect, I was hungry but I didn’t know what for. At the time, I didn’t know what I was feeling, but I desperately prayed for my desire to be in church to dissipate so that I might be able to be freed from its bondage. I prayed to a God I was not even sure I believed in. I prayed, the way I had prayed in middle school for my homosexuality to go away: I absolutely needed this to be a phase.
I felt a pull from some place I couldn’t explain to fly to Denver, CO and be baptized into a Lutheran congregation I didn’t know and by a pastor with whom I had only exchanged a few e-mails and a Skype conversation.
On this weird baptismal journey, I’ve found myself doing things I can’t explain and participating in activities whose meaning I don’t necessarily understand fully. I find myself saying “yes,” sometimes in defiance of common sense, simply because I can’t wait to see what will happen if I do. I walked around in a black cassock distributing ashes in Spanish on the streets of San Francisco for Ash Wednesday. I held the face of a little boy, of a drunk homeless man who lifted up his filthy San Francisco Giants hat to reveal a head full of sores, of a middle-aged Salvadoran woman who told me the devil is after her. I gave all of them ashes, I held their faces, and I told them all that they, just like me, are dust and to dust they will return.
I told all these people not to be scared, and each time I said it I was reminding myself of the same thing. Recuerda que polvo eres y en polvo te convertiras. La muerte no es el final. No temas. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Death isn’t the end. Be not afraid.
Don’t be afraid to have parts of you die so that other parts might live. This is my biggest struggle every day, but it's also been my greatest reward.