Saturday, February 27, 2010


We baptized and buried her 6-week old baby the same December day.  We met at the small cemetery chapel, and walked in toward the tiny casket, set gently on a small table in front.  It was a non-denominational -- no, non-religious -- chapel, built of dark stone.  No Christian cross, no religious symbols at all, so as not to offend.  Cold.

Her face was expressionless as she, her husband, and a few family members numbly sat down.  We had all gathered here, in this same comfortless place, barely one year before, to do this same thing for their firstborn son.  Baptize, then bury.

I poured the water I had brought from a small plastic bottle into the crystal bowl I removed from my canvas bag.  I lit two white candles.  Light against the darkness; flame against the cold.  There would be no hymns today.  No responsive readings.  No formal sermon.  It was just the six of us, after all, gathered to lay this tiny one to rest.  The promises of Jesus, St. John's vision of God wiping our tears away, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and a few prayers.  Just as we had done a year ago.  That was all any of us could manage.

It was good there were so few, as my own emotions kept my voice low and quiet.  I grieved as the mother stared blankly at the casket as I performed the ministrations of Word and Sacrament, offering what few words of comfort the Lord gave me.

As I baptized the infant, water and Word ran down his cold face, into his eyes.  A baby should object, cry when waters gets in his face.  Not a flinch.  No reflexive squeeze of his eyes.  It was all just so wrong.
Then, the quiet procession to the grave.  Everyone wanted to walk.  No one wanted to get there any faster than necessary; dreading, preparing themselves for what had to come next.  As I read the committal readings and prayers, the young father turned and walked about 25 feet away, his back toward the grave, eyes glaring at heaven.  He could not watch.  Not a second time.  He could not stand there as his second baby son was lowered into the ground next to the first.

"Let us go in peace."  The mother leaned down and numbly sprinkled dirt from the mound next to the grave, over her baby's casket.  It made a horrible, thudding sound.  The men picked up shovels and filled in the grave.  Suddenly, the mother emerged from her silence with a wail, and threw herself onto the mounded earth, pounding on it and crying in heaving sobs and groans.

No one tried to stop her.  No one could
Finally, she tried to stand again. Though a small delicate young woman, it took two people to get her on her feet.  It was done.  Her aging parents helping her, we began turning to walk back to the chapel and our cars.  She stopped, turned, and walked a few steps to me.  We hugged, and I held her as she went limp in my warms and wept.

Slowly, laboriously, we made our way to the car.  Her family helped her in, then quietly got in themselves, and drove away.

As I stood and gently waved, I felt something cold on my face.  I touched my face, and realized it was her tears on my cheek.  Sign and symbol of a simple parish pastor.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BLOOD RELATIONS - An Easter story at Christmas time

Fog.  Drizzle.  Incessant gray.  December in northwest Ohio.  As a passing truck sends one more blinding spray of smudge across my windshield, I pray, "Jesus, you're the only light I have today.  This darkness is overcoming me.  Be my light which this depressing darkness cannot overcome."

To someone is born this day a baby.  The time is not right.  It fights for its life in a hospital incubator.

As I drive, I release my dismal spirit to the Lord, and soon feel a quiet peace moving the shadows away.  By the time I reach church 45 minutes later to lead my Bible study, I am ready, eager to mine God's Word with the faithful women who attend despite the fog, despite the busy season.  Their presence alone blesses me.

To someone is born this day a baby...
Later, as I drive another hour back through the fog to Toledo to keep an appointment with the Red Cross, I recall the woman who called asking me to donate blood this week saying something about "preemies."  I make a mental note to ask the receptionist what that means.

Through the drizzle and holiday traffic, I finally arrive at the appointed place.  I am ready for the procedure, looking forward to the few quiet moments of rest I will be given as my blood slowly fills the pint bag.  I am always struck by the miracle of being able to give of my life without actually giving my life in order to help someone else.

To someone is born this day a baby...

As the receptionist takes the required information, I remember to ask my question.  "The woman who called me said something about preemies.  What did she mean?"

"When we tested your blood last time you gave, we discovered you are CMV-negative."

"What does that mean?"

"CMV is a kind of virus most adults have in their blood which, if active, produces flu-like symptoms in adults.  They may have picked it up from another person, or even from handling dirt, or by getting sick themselves.  We have to screen those because if CMV-positive blood is given to premature babies, whose immune systerms are not working yet, it could be fatal.  When we find someone like you, who is CMV-negative, in addition to being O-negative, making you a universal donor, well, you can probably expect to be called pretty regularly to donate for the preemies from now on!"

To someone is born this day a baby...

Awe gripped my heart.  I sat in stunned silence for a moment, taking in what she had told me.  "I'll share something very personal with you," I said after a time.  "My husband and I struggled for 10 years trying to have a baby.  For reasons medical science could never explain, we only seemed able to have miscarriages.  Both sides of our families have been 'fruitful and multiplied,' but not us, and for no clear reason.  Now you are telling me there is something rare about my blood that can save the lives of premature babies -- after all those years of trying to give life..."  My throat closed, tears welled as four of us -- two receptionists, another donor, and myself, let the miracle wash over us.

To someone is born this day a baby.  The time is not right.  It fights for its life in a hospital incubator.  Its parents wait the agonizing wait of helpless love and passionate hope.  The baby, dearly loved of God, is desperately sick.  She needs blood.

As I lay on the table giving my blood, blood which will bear life and power for a premature baby eagerly loved by her parents and by her God, I am facing a window.  I stare out into the fog and drizzle, and tears of awe and joy sweep over me again.

And I swear I hear the voice of a single angel whispering, "To you is born this day a baby..."