If Baptism is such an all-encompassing occasion, it stands to reason that it should have a perceptible effect on the whole life of the child. Here we return to the question of whether this influence renders the child unfree. We should look at this frankly and recognize that everything we give children, be it food, toys or education, will influence them. And rightly so, since their development depends on it: but this need not mean that these influences constrain them. Every worthwhile, aesthetic, love-filled impression influences people–but does not make them unfree.
Even though the outward course of the sacrament is always the same, each individual child responds differently. Sleeping or being awake, following the process with wide open or closed eyes, making soft noises or crying incessantly, laughing, or yawning at a particular moment; these are all visible and audible expressions important for parents and godparents to recognize consciously. We should allow the children to express themselves as they will and should not think it disruptive, even if they cry. When the Baptism is over, it quite often happens that they fall into a deep sleep, which we should not disturb–something to be taken into consideration if there is a reception or a festive occasion afterwards. A balance should be struck between what is important socially and what is important for the baptized child himself. Perhaps we could make sure that there is a peaceful place where he can sleep while the festivities are going on nearby.
It is easy to observe the child’s reactions during the Baptism and shortly thereafter, but what about the long-term influence. It is not exceptional to hear parents remark on what a peaceful and ‘heavenly’ effect the sacrament has had on a too-active, wakeful child. And the reverse can also happen; a baby who will not gain weight, an indication of the fact that he cannot properly arrive on earth, will suddenly start feeding as if to say ‘yes’ to the life just begun. Older children also are influenced in a positive way when they receive the Baptism.
We may look at the relationship between the three consecrated substances and the human biography. Although man strives to achieve a balance between the divergent qualities within himself (as we find them in the specific qualities of water, salt and ash, for instance) certain traits are more predominant during particular periods of life. In relation to this we can say that, during the first six or seven years, the essential qualities are those we find so obviously present wherever there is water: liveliness, growth and movement. The child’s body (which, in embryo, developed in the waters of the amniotic fluid) consists, to great degree, of water. Also in the upbringing of the child, we see how very important the fluid element is. For instance the child is able to go from one game full of fantasy, to another and yet stop immediately when it is time for dinner. And if it is possible to let play flow on into the meal-time, then we can experience the meandering, living stream which is home to the child.
Around the seventh year, when the milk-teeth make way for permanent ones, the almost opposite element of form comes forth. The child learns that there are boundaries. Boundaries of time, for example, are made obvious in school as each class lasts a certain length of time. This makes it possible to learn to accomplish a task within an allotted span; to concentrate on something in particular now, then stop and concentrate on something quite unrelated, without letting everything flow together. This achievement is of great importance later on for religious life. The children of this age will learn that there are boundaries laid down concerning their behaviour. Their world begins to be differentiated; they can no longer be so inextricably interwoven with the world around them. The cubic salt crystal seems to bring this power of form to expression. In the chapter on the substances we saw that salt also has conserving properties. When we realize this, it is exciting to discover that it is in this second seven-year period that the child learns to keep secrets, and takes pleasure in doing so; a clear indication of an inner world that can be shut off from the outside world.
The cubic salt crystal with its six equal planes can also be regarded symbolically as the human being seeking the balance between extremes; between being earth-bound and volatile, between hyper-activity and inert passivity, or between reckless living and an all too careful, conservative way of life. The balance is kept in three directions.
When the child reaches puberty and enters the third seven-year period, everything begins to stand in the sign of fire. This fire destroys much of what was valuable in childhood but it is also the fire of idealism, through which the adolescent can gain enthusiasm for heroic personalities and ideals for the future. In growing towards adulthood the ‘self’ is born. Again we are reminded of the mythological image of the phoenix who rose from the ashes. At the dramatic age of fourteen much is lost, but new and unique things will arise. From this we can understand why Confirmation is always celebrated at Easter-time. The motif of death and resurrection has an exceptionally important meaning for this age-group.
It should also be mentioned that the characteristics and properties of the three substances affect not only the first three seven-year periods, but can also be seen to relate to three longer periods into which the whole life can be divided. The first twenty years have as their distinguishing feature, growth and movement, the middle period is one where form and balance come into play, while the last phase of life is marked by the polarity of the ageing body and the increased activity of spirit.
We can gain reverence and respect for the three substances used in the Baptism when we realize how well they represent the specific rhythms found in every human biography. These simple substances, which are consecrated during the sacrament, consecrate in turn the whole life of the baptized child.
The Christian Community by Louise Madsen, Floris Books, 1985.
Growing Point by Alfred Heidenreich, Floris Books, 1979.
Seven Sacraments in The Christian Community by Evelyn Capel, Floris Books, 1981.
The Path to Birth by Stanley Drake, Floris Books, 1984.
The Act of Consecration of Man by Martha Heimeran, Christian Community Press, 1975.
The Creed by Evelyn Capel, Floris Books, 1985
The Christian Year by Evelyn Capel, Floris Books, 1982.
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