There is nothing like a baptism less than a week before deploying to help a pastor keep her priorities straight. These past couple of weeks have meant back to back meetings and a litany of tasks, many of which I have little true interest. Don't misunderstand, it IS important that I assemble my kevlar helmet and IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest...I actually just looked it up myself) to standard, but in this build up to our departure, I have missed being in the church, pronouncing benedictions, shaking hands at the door, and many of the other markers of worship. Perhaps this is why being asked to perform a baptism this past weekend for two daughters of a soldier in my unit meant so much to me.
Looking out over the gathered crowd, there were many faces that I recognized. Even though I have been here less than six months, in the life cycle of a military tour, that is plenty of time to form real connections. I met this particular family in the early weeks of my Texas life and have loved being a part of their lives ever since. Besides the part of the service when the two-year-old shook her head violently, hoping to avoid my oily finger, my favorite moments were when the older sisters, 10 and 7, volunteered to read parts of the scripture and liturgy. Neither had any prior practice in church reading, but because they came from a family where reading is a daily practice, the girls didn't miss a beat. Who knows what their future in public speaking may be, but they are both off to a wonderful start.
In some ways, having me, an Army chaplain, perform this service was more important to the mother than following her Catholic upbringing. I did make sure that she warned her family that I was a woman and not able to perform mass. As I have discovered in these few short months, the Army can be it own kind of faith community. It extends far and wide, across the world even, but in ways that surprise, it is palpable and true. As one friend reminded me recently, the church is everywhere.
At the family reception after the service, I met a wounded soldier who, that very day, marked the one month anniversary of losing his leg to an IED in Afghanistan. Sitting quietly with just a few visible IV tubes peaking out from beneath his short sleeve shirt, besides his missing leg, I would have never known that just a month earlier he barely survived a horrific explosion while on patrol with his Infantry unit. His doctors have been surprised that his physical healing has come so far so fast. He told me that he remembers every part of the explosion. Given this, I wonder about the other kinds of healing which will be needed over these months. Yet in this Army community, where faith and hope are found in our belonging to both God and one another, I know that he will be carried and strengthened each day, until he can stand again on his own.