Every once in a while, I get to bless a baby in utero. This includes expectant moms in my congregation and sometimes strangers I meet while wearing my clergy collar.
When I make a hospital visit and see a pregnant nurse or doctor in the hallway, I might say “Congratulations!” and ask how her pregnancy is going. If she asks me to pray for the baby, I’ll see if she wants me to place my hand on her protruding belly or keep my distance. Usually it’s the former. I’ve yet to feel a kick in such a moment, but here’s hoping.
A few weeks ago, a hip looking young couple walked by while I was standing in front of the church. They smiled at me and slowed down to read my sign as they passed. Then they doubled back a minute later. The woman looked about 5 months pregnant and asked me to bless her baby. She was showing pregnant mid-drift and pulling it off spectacularly. But I thought it might be a tad too intimate to offer to touch her bare skin. So, I said a quick prayer for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. Then I blessed the baby by making the sign of the cross over her belly without actually touching it.
This is where things went a little sideways. I said something about the child becoming a “saint in the church.” Today, November 1, is All Saints' Day. It’s a day in the church calendar when we celebrate the communion of saints, which is simply all Christians throughout time – past, present, and yet to come. I like to emphasize that all people are children of God. When someone is baptized, they become a member of the body of Christ and a saint in the church.
But does the average person know this? No. Did that couple likely think I was talking about Saint with a capital “S” – e.g., someone super holy from hundreds of years ago who might have even been martyred? Probably so. I decided to wrap up the blessing and cut my losses rather than try to explain Christian doctrine around sainthood. I couldn’t tell what was going through mommy-to-be’s head, but I detected a look in her eye that said, “Well that was weird.” Then we all smiled politely and the couple went on their way.
“Dang it. Live and learn,” I thought. This wasn’t the first time I’d been overzealous in expressing my faith, or scared somebody off, or earned the title “Jesus freak.” I try to keep it cool, but sometimes I overdo it. This can happen even in church.
Once I was teaching a baptismal preparation class, and the godparent of an infant to be baptized kept looking at me with wide eyes and a bemused expression. I started talking excitedly about the mystical nature of baptism, explaining how the Holy Spirit sanctifies the water so that it becomes “holy water.” The godparent’s smile got bigger, so I stopped and stared at him. “Do you think I’m crazy for saying all this?” I asked. “Sort of,” he responded. “Plus, you’re so enthusiastic about it.”
I was indeed enthusiastic. And I wonder what I said about that infant becoming a saint in the church through baptism. I wonder how that godparent experienced the baptism. When my own child was baptized as an infant, I cried it was so beautiful. And, unsurprisingly, I noticed another parent standing up there with her baby give me a strange look. I definitely wasn’t playing it cool that day.
Nor will I be playing it cool on this most holy All Saints' Day. Today I joyfully and vocally count myself among the billions of people (living and dead) who proclaim Jesus as Lord. So, to all my fellow Christian enthusiasts out there, and to the glorious company of the saints in light, raise your flag and fly it high. This Jesus freak will join you.