Friday, July 28, 2006

Re-Visiting My Confirmation

A few weeks ago my mother gave away most of her collected memorabilia to her children and grandchildren. I have been going through the mementoes of her life among the pictures, cards, letters, and newspaper/newsletter clippings that she set aside especially for me. The plastic baggie filled with cards and the order of service from my confirmation stood out.

I was confirmed on Pentecost Sunday many years ago in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. We confirmands had invested two hours each Saturday morning for the past two years. The Sunday prior to our confirmation, we sat in the front row of church and, as part of the service, had to answer surprise questions from the pastor. Having watched this for the previous 10 years give or take, having seen squirming youth stumped by the questions, embarrassed and shamed before the whole congregation (that was my take, anyhow), I was glad to have lived through The Inquisition.

I remember my white dress, my new Bible (not white, but with the words of Jesus in red), the excitement of wondering what communion would feel like (I was surprised that I didn’t feel much of anything special – I’m sure I expected something huge and wondered if my sinful nature prevented this from happening), and the anticipation of a big party afterwards (isn’t this a bit like how ministers feel at some weddings, that the ceremony will not be intensely felt because so much focus is on the reception?)

The order of service that my mother kept begins with this ‘Prayer Before Worship’:
Lord Jesus, send Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts through Thy Word and Sacrament that He may convince us of all Truth, strengthen us in every trial, and increase our strength and joy of believing, that we may live to Thy glory now, and be saved eternally by Thy grace, Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, forever and ever. Amen.

Despite the two years of study prior to confirmation (I remember that much of the study focused on Luther’s Catechism), I was not really conversant about the Holy Spirit (almost exclusively called the Holy Ghost in that church). I had a hard time relating to ghosts and I was much more conversant with original sin, which I was undoubtedly committing every moment of my existence. I had my own demons and trials I was dealing with at the age of 13, but the Holy Ghost was not strengthening me, because I didn’t know that this force of love was available to me. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is, this high moment of Confirmation, of Coming of Age, did not meet any expectations I may have had. I can see now that I was truly struggling with how this faith related to my reality and the reality of those times. I can see now that I was already growing away from that faith, but that was unthinkable then.

However, something important did happen then, and I didn’t see it until now: along with the newsletter clipping and order of service from that distant day, that Ziploc bag contained a big stack of cards: several, though they had different drawings on the front, said ‘A Prayer for Your Confirmation’ – several others just said, ‘For Your Confirmation’. All featured pastel flowers and doves, many had crosses and the stained glass window effect -- a couple in glitter. And the sentiments inside all had to do with wishes for a deeper faith, the felt presence of the Holy Ghost active in my life, and messages of love. The surprise was that most of these cards came from, not members of my family or people particularly close to me, but adult members of that church – people I knew all through my childhood, people who spoke to me each Sunday, who chided me when my behavior was out of control, who took time each week to say something special to me (and this was not a small church). And now that I was coming of age, they took the time to shop for and send me a card, along with, I’m sure, wishes/prayers that I would always have this faith to sustain me. I have not read these cards since that distant day, when I probably threw them in a pile for someone else (my mother) to cherish and keep.

I do have a faith to sustain me, though it’s not that particular one and it took me many long years to hone and grow in to. But what has kept me at that task, I'm convinced, has been that distant memory of community, one that took on a shared responsibility for the nurturing of the children of that community. Somewhere inside me, unexpressed until now, was the cellular memory of those people urging me on to keep faith and to open myself to the Holy Spirit. What a lasting gift that truly speaks to what a Coming of Age can and should be for children in those confusing early adolescent years.

I got my aging body out of bed at 3:30 AM one morning last week to see off the youth who recently ‘graduated’ from the Coming of Age program at the church I am about to begin to serve. They were departing for Guatemala for a service project – and I wanted to be there to show them that they truly matter to the whole church and to nurture them in their unfolding. I don’t know these youth but I hope to build an open relationship with them. I know even more this week how important it is to stand by them and with them as they forge through their adolescence and into their adult years.


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