We had Petra’s dedication last month, and I just haven’t found the right moment to write about it. I can’t find quite the right words to say all the things I want to about it, but I’ll try.
In our church, parents are invited to dedicate themselves and their children, which basically means that they formally promise to raise their children in a godly manner and to teach them about Jesus, both his teachings and his sacrifice. At the same time, the congregation pledges to support the family in this complex endeavor.
The parents say a few words to their child or about her, and the pastor asks a few questions of the parents, things like, “Do you accept this child as a gift from God?”
This is not a baptism. Just to be clear on that point–Mennonites are a group that practices believer’s baptism, in other words, baptism that is chosen by the person being baptized. Children are not considered competent to make that choice. It is, instead, the parents committing to walk alongside God as God unveils God’s plan for the child’s life.
Along with us, two other families dedicated their babies. All of them were girls, and all second-born. The older siblings are all 2.5, and had trouble paying attention. They don’t know that we had a similar ceremony for them–actually, one of the older siblings was dedicated alongside Silas.
We had another parent/child dedication at church today, and listening to the questions over again, I remembered the one thing that is deeply unsettling about infant dedication–that it involves giving your child back. To God. One of the questions says, more or less, “Do you commit to supporting your child in the life God has for her, counting the cost with due soberness?” I think of Hannah, literally taking her just-weaned little boy to the temple to literally return him to God. I think of Mary and the plans she might have had for her Son, plans that, I imagine, did not end with the events we are commemorating this Easter week. I think of Paul wounded, stoned, imprisoned, and I have to wonder how his mother bore it. How do any of the mothers bear it? I have all the many modern examples, too, of people whose faith led them down a dark and dangerous path. They all, every one of them, have or had a mother somewhere, praying for their safety, bargaining with God. The idea that little Petra is going to grow up and follow her own path is both inevitable and mind-blowing.
I don’t mean to sound terribly ominous about it. The whole thing over all was beautiful and a celebration. I read Kirsten’s beautiful villanelle. It was perfect.