I served a mission in France and Belgium. Though I have seen blessing gowns in the Church History Museum, my family has not made a tradition of the infant’s clothing. At the end of my time, I walked with my parents not far from the Grande Place of Brussels, and they found a white lace dress. It was not meant for me, but death and life sometimes intercede without expectation.
We learn to participate in Church liturgy. It is only relatively recently that Church handbooks carried ritual texts—the 1968 handbook to be precise. For the entirety of the nineteenth century there was only proximate example. In a way, that is how I learned as well. With church demographics, I think that there is a significant proportion of the church that learns how pray or how to bless by reading a book; but I grew up seeing a particular way of doing things.
My oldest is now in middle school. Since his birth I have read thousands of liturgical texts. Years ago I sat next to my father as he struggled against organ failure. I read materials on our deathbed. He defied my grave expectations, and he lived to see my work published on the topic.
This year it has been the blessings of infants and children—hundreds of documents. And as I worked to integrate the sometimes disparate pieces into a coherent narrative, I held my newborn daughter in my arms to bless her. Newborn blessing texts are rare, but not absent from our records. It has been somewhat difficult to determine what these rituals meant to our church fathers and mothers. I think I have been able to approach them, and with time in those worlds my words have become decidedly old timey. May she be spared to one day read and understand what I write.
This was different. Perhaps because she is the last. Perhaps because she is our only daughter. Perhaps because I am different; proximity has most certainly changed how I see myself and others in the great patterns of creation that animate our worship.