Monday, August 18

the ritual

I read today, in The Baptized Body that sacraments are best described as a rite or ritual, as action done by many people together to experience and tell the same story in 'real life' time. Letter writing is a kind of rite of friendship; it takes two to complete the work. Gardening is a ritual of the seasons accomplished by the sweat of man's brow, and yet not by his strength alone; he works in covenant with creatures-- 'good' insects used against the 'bad' pests, trusting for rain to fall and the sun to do its part in shining. Leithart makes a simple case for the meaning of sacraments, claiming that there is no "real life" separate or independent from the embellishments we know as special events.

To use a very common special event, for example, most of us would say you could have a birthday party without balloons. Let us consider the fact that balloons and cake with candles melting over it symbolize something recognizable to us (yes, in our particular culture) of a rite of passage for the birthday boy, an honour granted by his surrounding friends or family in a ceremonial way. Thus, Leithart is able to say, "Rites accomplish what they signify" (22). Our next question might be: would not the child turn a year older without the party? In another example, that Leithart uses, he illustrates the importance of ceremony truly causing something to happen, for "[w]hen two people marry, their status changes from 'single' to 'married', and what happens through the rite of covenant making is said to be something 'joined together' by God" (23). Let us now sleep on these things--in the ritual of turning back the sheets, plumping our pillows and really closing our eyes.

Friday, August 15

reading on water

After a discussion we sat in on about one of Peter Leithart's books, we set out to find our own copy, but it not being available, I ordered The Baptized Body instead. Thus, we are learning what we didn't know we needed to study necessarily about the sign, symbol, or sacrament of baptism. We've used all these words to describe the water rebirth, and Leithart makes a case for why baptism, as a sacrament, is neither a sign or symbol and not even a means of grace. It's a fine line of distinction: "Sacraments are not means of grace, but themselves graces" (18). The effect on ourselves in this "personal encounter with the Triune God" is that "[we] are transformed when God shows His favor through granting favors, when God shows his grace through bestowing graces" (18).

The summer heat wave passed over us this week, with heavy gray clouds, wind, rain, and the slow sweeping out of burdensome humidity. Air is breathable again and our neighbours poke their heads out of air conditioned houses like hermit crabs washed up on the beach, wondering where they've landed and how to get back into the group again. In the heat that drives us to obsess on water--beach going, pool lounging, a glass of ice water--I shall slowly seek out glimpses of its meaning.

Saturday, August 9


Our friend Lars came home with his comrades this week. After six months in Iraq, his family met him with the exhilaration of anticipation after a long absence, and the happy surprise of familiarity--as if he came home from work just yesterday. I was one of three friends chosen as family paparazzi for the event.

We arrived at the huge open hangar with some fifteen other families. At two in the afternoon, we were sweating the shade, gathered around a big box fan, watching the swarm of children bounce on the green air dragon kindly provided by the Marines for the toddlers grumpy without naps and moms' sanity when the plane got delayed half and hour. The wives drifted in clusters, chattering with their squadron aquaintances, re-powdering noses, distributing snacks and drinks to red-faced children. Behind us, a large plane is being worked on, Marines drifting slowly in and out on their daily round of business. Finally, the word spreads from one man with news from the tower: landing in five minutes. Scurry and hustle ensues; children are thrown in their strollers, babies swung on the hip, and the matching, patriotically blue striped dressed little girls with red bows perched on their heads like staked butterflies line up at the edge of the hangar's shade, all eyes glued to the sky.

We watch the wide, grey wings slowly descend towards us on the ramp. Upon touchdown, the pilot waves out his tiny window, and everyone shakes their little American flags furiously, cameras flashing to capture the wives and childrens' faces as the crouch at the ready, saying "LOOK, Daddy's coming!" No one moves except the scurry of support guys opening the doors, tractors ready to forklift the mountains of tightly packed luggage.

While waiting, unsure what's next, we see a little boy take off trotting at full speed, his red T-shirt the only colour moving across the land of concrete, towards the distant huddle of metal machines and swarm of uniforms around the plane. Out of the flurry of guys unloading, one tall, tan flight suited dad comes running towards the little boy. They tumble into one another half way across the empty ramp. Father and son fall over right there, sitting in the sun to squeeze their hot and tired necks into happy wrinkles. All at once, the whole long line of waiting families start running, looking for their dads and husbands as they slowly make their way out of the back end of the aircraft.

Between tears and camera snapping, I saw little else of the homecoming except smiling faces and lanky dads chasing their giggling, teasing children and the husbands and wives in fierce handholds hauling their loads of gear back to the car, back to home.