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Once upon a time, Goldilocks came across the home of three bears who lived in the woods. In their absence, she engaged in a little break-and-enter, and helped herself to their porridge. One bowl was too hot, one was too cold, and one was just right. When I sat down to write today’s sermon, I was thinking about the three little bears who grew up under our roof. When our boys were little, they all learned to speak at different times. Unlike the temperature of porridge, however, there is no perfect "just right" for some of these developmental milestones - at least not an externally imposed one. Rather, we all hope to support our children in finding the "just right" in their own timeline, whether it is in learning to speak or any of the other many lessons life has in store.

To help support one of the boys, Mom and I took the advice of a speech-language pathologist and enrolled in an American Sign Language, or ASL, course. Unexpectedly, Mom and I found is that it enhanced our communication with each other as much as it helped any of the kids. Suddenly, we could converse in a noisy space without having to yell or to strain to hear each other. Or we could make ourselves understood at a distance, across a greater space than our voices could have carried. Now, English is a beautiful, stand-alone language. And ASL is a beautiful, stand-alone language. But put them together and they proved greater than the sum of their parts; we felt, for a time, like we had a super power - one that sadly wore off as the boys grew up and our fledgling ASL vocabulary fell out of use.

Fast forward to today, and thanks to Jax I am getting reacquainted with sign language. Not only is it one of the languages he uses to converse with the world, I notice that signing is routinely used in preschools and in children’s music videos to give learners another way of understanding what is being said or sung. I am glad that today’s young are being introduced to the super power that comes from bringing together these and other complementary ways of communicating.

Similarly, as we baptize Jax today we are reminded that life can be made bigger when we learn the language of faith. We baptize Jax into a church that teaches songs and stories that offer a unique lens for understanding life’s mysteries and challenges; a lens that doesn’t replace the other ways we have of experiencing the world, but, we hope, enhances them. Whether we are a parent, a scientist, a sports fan, a builder, a traveller, a bus driver or all the above, we can reach higher and love wider when we bring our full selves to our relationships and our work. And our full selves includes our spiritual selves. 

I am in the middle of a fascinating book called The Awakened Brain, in which the author Lisa Miller writes about her work in psychiatry and her study of the role of spirituality in human biology. She has found that our brains are quite literally hard-wired for spirituality; MRI scans, for example, show that the right cortex of our brain is more robust in people with a spiritual life, but thinner in those who suffer from depression. A number of studies have found that having an active sense of spirituality is highly protective against depression; this is true most profoundly in the teenage years.  Yet another study indicates that we all have a capacity for spirituality; some of it is genetic and some of it is environmental. How we express our spirituality is variable; for many it means being active in a faith community; others find their sense of spirituality outside of organized religion. Some people are more inclined to the spiritual life, some less. But all of us can make the choice to grow our spiritual muscles, just as we educate our brains for a career and exercise our bodies to stay fit and mobile.

The scripture writers said much the same thing, minus the MRI imaging and the academic papers. In the second reading from Revelations this morning, we hear: "The Spirit and the bridge say, 'Come.' And let everyone who hears say 'Come.' And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift." And in our rather tongue-twisting gospel reading, Jesus prays that all people will know that they are deeply loved by their Creator. He says "I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." A little earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus sums it up beautifully: "I come that they may have life, and have it in abundance."

Just as we can call on different kinds of languages to enhance our understanding of life, God, too, uses different languages to communicate with us. The scriptures are one way; our ancient stories can be read on many levels - at face value, in their metaphorical sense, in their historical context and others. All these approaches offer different kinds of insights and it is in wrestling with them that the scriptures remain living and relevant in our journey of faith. But words are just one way of knowing, and sometimes they even hamper our understanding. Thankfully, we are also invited to know God through the beauty of creation and the mysteries of the universe; we are invited to know God through the tangible humanity of Jesus’s life and ministry; we are invited to know God in the still quiet of our own hearts and in our collective worship and storytelling. This is a life’s work, and it is humbling work. As we were reminded in the children’s book this morning, whatever our culture or creed, whoever our prophet or sage, in our earthly life none of us will have a language big enough for God. Almost by definition, any God we can imagine will be too small.  

But we come together and we do our best. We delve into the bible and see what we can learn from seeing how people’s relationship with the Divine developed over the span of thousands of years. When words fail, as they do so often, we turn to earthly elements - to bread, to wine, to water - to feed our spiritual selves. We light candles and we sing songs to take us more deeply into the realm of feeling. And we go beyond ourselves into a place of gratitude and of compassion for others. As writer Anne Lamott is known for saying, there are ultimately only three prayers: Thanks, Help, and Wow! Whether spoken, silent or sung we rely on variations of all three to help us get us out of dark places, to grow into our best selves, and to align our spirit with our Creator’s. 

Some of this work is personal; some of it is collective. When Jax comes over to our house, the first thing he does is check to make sure the baby gate at the top of the stairs is properly fastened. He insists on having a candle lit at mealtime if we have forgotten. Of late, he also makes sure there is a tub of baby lotion beside his cot so I can give him a complimentary foot rub at naptime. And so it is in a community of faith - through ritual and encounter, we show up and remind each other of what is important. Of what we may have forgotten, and what we still need to learn. Of connection and celebration. Of the joy that comes from lifting our hearts to God, and lifting each other when we are down.

The invitation to the holy is, of course, woven throughout our daily lives, whether we attend church or not. It’s in the integrity we bring to our work, the listening ear we give to a colleague, the patience with which we parent, the attentiveness we bring to our morning walk; all of these are places we express and enhance our spiritual selves. It is hard to predict where we - or anyone else - will find our places of greatest spiritual learning and abundance. I was reminded of this recently when I was transplanting some overgrown cucumber seedlings into my garden. I had helpfully put up a trellis for the leggy, foot-high seedlings to grasp onto for support, but I have to say they were remarkably ungrateful. There was one cucumber that was particularly stubborn and even though I had, I thought, perfectly positioned the trellis for it to grab on to, the cucumber continued to flop over and make its path in a different direction all together. It felt a little like an analogy for our best efforts as parents and teachers.

Jax, we don’t know what kind of cucumber you are and in what directions your life will take you over the years. But this morning, as we baptize you into the family of Christ, we offer you all the tools we have in our garden shed to help you grow a life of faith, a love of God, and a desire to reflect that love into the world. I am grateful to Lynley, who will be signing parts of our baptism service this morning, because ASL is one of Jax’s home languages. More importantly, though, it’s a reminder that all our different ways of understanding and communing with the world don’t compete with each other, but enhance each other. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, may we express and embody the language of  love. Of hope. And of trust that we are held in the palm of God’s hand, always and forever, Amen.