A few weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure of conducting a simple and yet profound ritual for a very special member of our church at North Shore Blackpool. Belle comes to us with her wonderful mum Lynn and Lynn’s wife Ruth. She is an amazing young lady who has dealt with a lot in life, her love often shines through to us all despite some challenging mental health issues that challenge Lynn and Ruth every day.
Riley is Belle’s doll, a special gift of love to her this Christmas from her loving mum’s, so when Lynn approached me to ask whether I would perform a special service for Reiley I saw no reason to say no. To Belle this would be a sort of Baptism, and because of the wonderful words in the Methodist Baptism Liturgy which proclaim with confidence the prevenient grace of God I was able to say a firm yes.
So here is some of my thinking, Belle wanted a service that included the annointing of Riley with water, as we use water in the baptism service as a symbol of cleansing and also rising to new life , because of this I felt that the symbol was appropriate. In Riley Belle finds an expression of love from Lynn and Ruth and through them from God, a symbol through which she is included into a loving family ( there are many more glimpses into God’s heart through this family), and for her, and those who are her witnesses, that is a rising (ongoing) to a new life.
In performing a blessing for Riley I was affirming a symbol of love, in using some of the words; specifically “All this for you before you could know anything of it”, in response to the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection, I was declaring the reality of a God whose love flows to , through and sometimes/ often inspite of us.
I believe that we all need ritual and symbol in our lives and Belle is no exception, so when we gathered around the font that Sunday morning we entered into God’s presence in a special way. The ritual and liturgy was short and to the point, I prayed a simple prayer, spoke of the love of God that surrounded us and prayed a blessing for Belle, and over Riley which contained the words “All this for you before your could know anything of it”.
Riley then is not simply a doll, she is a symbol of love, a love that surrounds Belle and flows to her through, Lynn, Ruth and all who love her, this then is no different in some ways from being asked to bless prayer beads and roasaries ( yes I am a strange Methodist), or from offering other prayers for wholeness and healing. It is my general practice at a baptism to offer a blessing with the water for those who wish to recieve it, that particular Sunday it seems that though the blessing was offered only one it touched many.
When I spoke to Lynn today she said that for Belle, Riley is a symbol of love and healing, Belle can love her with confidence that she will not be hurt, how fitting then that we offer a blesing so that love, real, deep and confident love might take root in Belles heart and grow as she grows into the blessing and grace of God, the prevenient grace that surrounds her.
That Belle would want to acknowledge her special gift before God and with us is significant, and a real step of faith. Ibaptised 3 more childern that day but believe Belle understood more fully than most what she was asking for. I am more than convinced that Jesus would have recieved her:
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.
Matthew 19: 14-15
Picture: Prevenient Grace (mine)