Collected Wisps of Thought

{February 7, 2008}   Michael Jasper

This weekend I was privileged to attend the dedication ceremony for Michael Jasper. Michael is not yet one year old, but in his short life he has already gone through three surgical procedures, including open heart surgery. He’s been poked and prodded and weaned before he wanted to be (and trust me, he let people know it!). He’s been hooked up to tubes and IVs and seen life filtered through the plastic walls of an incubator.

It would be easy to make this blog into a big cliché, writing about how despite it all Michael still smiles, still laughs, still reached out with a huge grin on his face to touch the woman who stood at the podium to close the ceremony. Because all of that is true, but it belies the fact that this has also been tremendously difficult for Michael, his parents, his big brother Jacob… How do you watch a child go through an experience like this and not find yourself totally outside of the realm of the cliché, immersed instead in the world of complication where good and bad intermingle until they’re almost unrecognizable?

I would not presume to speak for Michael’s parents who spoke so eloquently for themselves at the dedication ceremony, reading a long letter they’d written to Michael about how the world already has and will continue to attempt to define him as “broken” or “different”, someone who needs to be fixed, but their love sees him as perfect just as he is. I can, however, relate my own experience of Michael’s dedication, and how much it moved me to be a part of it.

For those of you unfamiliar with a dedication ceremony, it’s similar to a traditional christening where a baby (occasionally an adult or older child) is welcomed into the church family and the church pledges to support the life journey of this individual. In this case, the family involved is Mennonite, and they added their own unique touches to the event. In addition to the long letter Michael’s parents had written him, which they read out loud, there was also a wonderful time when Michael’s uncle wrapped him in a prayer shawl that had been made for him and carried him around the room for all to see, talking as he went about the people Michael will know as he grows older. People who already love him and support him unconditionally. Regardless of all future test results, it was understood that those of us present will love this little boy and do all we can to pave the way ahead of him.

This was the part of the event that most moved me. It made me think about the fact that good can come from suffering — not because suffering is good but because we can act in good ways in spite of it.

When I look at the church today, it’s easy to see its brokenness. In a day and age when the priesthood is synonymous in many people’s minds with child sexual abuse and religious texts are used to support mass murder, it would be safe to say that the church wears its faults on its sleeve. Where is the good in it?

I have struggled greatly with my faith and spirituality over the years. It’s been easier to pursue the latter than to have the former. Spirituality is a word that’s still safe, while religion has acquired a definite taint, don’t you think? Yet, I keep returning to religion – yes religion – even when I find myself wondering why. Attending Michael’s dedication was a huge piece in that puzzle.

I realized that I return out of hope. Hope that good can still triumph despite suffering, and a belief that this good will come about through communities of love… through people who decide to support one another through the tough times and celebrate with one another in the good times. Hope that when I am the one who is broken I will find love that is as unconditional as the love that this community offers to Michael.

Michael’s christening was a shining moment. A gathering of people pledging to do everything in their power to let love conquer suffering. It’s not that this kind of gathering can’t happen outside of religion, but it’s been my experience that it’s hard to access it elsewhere. We live in a fragmented world and even when I have purposefully sought out a connection with a larger group of people, it’s been rare and elusive and often doesn’t last. The church offers something we are in desperate need of these days – community. And though it is flawed and there is suffering involved, there is good too. Every now and again, we get to remember that.

More than remember it, we get to feel it, wrapped around us like a prayer shawl. What a privilege to stand with other people who also believe that good should triumph and to pledge to do everything in our power to see that it does so for this life in particular. This beautiful perfect baby boy who enters into our midst. Michael, we welcome you into our flawed world, our imperfect church, our hurting families, but we do so with the greatest love we can find, hoping beyond hope that together we will find our way to goodness.


Shari says:

Thanks for your post. Faith is vital in my life, yet I’ve struggled at times with the whole “organized religion” thing because of its flaws and past mistakes. However, I choose to stay in the church anyway (hey, I’ve got plenty of flaws and past mistakes myself!), and I find a community that shares my joys and sorrows, and I find, always, hope.

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