Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will come often. It is my hope that these stories and reflections will be helpful in your spiritual journey. I look forward to your thoughts, questions, or suggestions. Please leave your comments and join as a follower so I will know you were here. It is a privilege to share the journey with you.

If you wish to know more about me, spiritual direction or retreats visit my website. www.bunnycox.com. Blessings, Bunny

*See first posting in January, 2011 to learn why this blog is called "From the Big Red Chair."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mercy Giver

Isn't there something we can do?  Couldn’t you baptize her anyway?”  I asked Father Mike when we met to make funeral arrangements for my infant granddaughter.

“No, Bunny, we don’t do that,” he said, not unkindly. “We don’t baptize someone after they are dead. We believe in baptism of intention," he explained. "If a baby dies before she is christened, if her family intended for her to be baptized, we consider her to be baptized. And,” he added, "She is, of course, in heaven.”

I wasn’t disturbed by Father Mike's response.  I knew what I requested isn’t done, and I wasn’t concerned about where sweet baby Alden would spend eternity. It seems to me Jesus settled that question when he said, “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” But, not everyone thinks that way.

My concern was for another whose tradition teaches no baptism, no heaven, no chance for a heavenly reunion. I observed firsthand the inconsolable grief that occurs when all hope for eternity dies. I considered mentioning I secretly baptized Alden when she was in the intensive care unit at the hospital(*), but I knew my confession would bring little, if any, comfort to a person who didn't acknowledge a lay person, and especially a woman, as a sanctioned baptizer.

So, on a brisk December morning, on the day that was to have been Alden’s christening, the family gathered instead at the cemetery for a simple graveside ceremony, our misery too personal, too fragile to endure a church service as we had for her mother only three months earlier. A small contingent of intimate friends averted their eyes when we took our places in chairs near the small white coffin.  My grandson Spencer laid flowers on his mother’s grave only a few feet away from the seat he took behind me.  I wondered how such a young life and tender soul could endure having lost so much--his mother, his home, and now his baby sister.

The sun glinted from the gold processional cross held high behind Father Mike who stood before us. A breeze swept across the gentle swell where we sat near a winter-bare tree. It tickled the fringe on Father Mike’s stole and played with the hem of his robe.  When he began to speak, all who had respectfully kept their distance moved closer, as if to surround us with arms of unspoken sympathy.

I don’t remember the words Father Mike spoke that morning, but never shall I forget what he did.  Father Mike pushed his robe aside and dropped to one knee beside little Alden. From a small crystal cruet, he poured water slowly over the tiny white coffin.  Unable to cradle her in his arms he leaned close and embraced her with his voice.  “Alden,” he spoke gently, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Like Jesus, who dared to heal on the Sabbath, Father Mike broke the rules. He did what he could to heal shattered hope, and, most of all, he taught us a lesson in grace—always, always, err on the side of mercy. Father Mike did more than conduct a funeral for a baby that sad December morning.  Father Mike showed us Jesus.


The quality of mercy is not straineth, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the gentle place beneath. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” ~William Shakespeare

“You can judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”~James D. Miles

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”~Hosea 6:6

--Is there someone in my life who has shown me mercy? What happened? What affect did it have?
--Is there some way I can show mercy to someone today?

(*) “The Sacred Secret,” November 3

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seasons of Sorrow

I arrived home one evening in early December encouraged by accomplishing the previously unattainable feat of staying at the office for a full day. Three months had passed since my daughter Tara had died. It’s true I had to feign productivity, but at least the curtain of grief had lifted enough for me to partially resume normal activities. The light on the horizon was dim, but I could see the rising dawn of healing.  

My husband Sam watched for me as I drove into the driveway.  

“Hi, how was your day?” I asked when he opened the door. If I had been more observant, I wouldn’t have had to ask.

“Not worth a damn,” he said in his usual get-to-the-point way. “Alden died today.”

It took several repetitions before his words penetrated the barriers of denial and disbelief and settled into reality.   My granddaughter Alden Betts, Tara’s baby girl, was gone.  The family was to gather within the week for her christening. Instead, we would bury her. I noticed the sorrow in Sam’s eyes only briefly before, once again, I plummeted into the blindness of despair.

I don’t know why Alden died. No one does.  They called it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS, “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, often leaving unanswered questions and causing intense grief for parents and families.” SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion in the absence of explanation. 

There are experiences in life that are at the very edge, the borders of our intellectual reach. As painful as it was, I could make sense of Tara’s parting. It was a predictable outcome in light of medical decisions that had not been in her favor. Alden’s death defied comprehension or hope for meaning.   

Sudden, unexpected death threatens one’s sense of safety and security. The death of an infant threatens one’s sense of God. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. Babies are not supposed to die before adults.  Tara was gone. Alden was gone. Twice we were to experience the disruption of the natural order of life. Twice I would have to ask, “What do I believe about God now that this has happened?”

A day would come when I would know the answer to that question, but in that moment, all I could say was, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”


“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”~Kahlil Gibran

“Sometimes the fear and pain are so deep that all we can do is come with our questions and our fragile desire.”~Ann Dean

“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey.  You will never make it for this is a journey of unknowables—of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.”~Jeanne Guyon

“Hear my cry, O God, and listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you.  I call as my heart grows faint.” Psalm 61:1-2

-Is my faith dependent upon knowing the answer to life’s most difficult questions?
-In times when life seems unfair, when incomprehensible things happen, how do I make peace with mystery?

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen
~From the night service of Compline, The Book of Common Prayer 1979 (ECUSA)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Sacred Secret

Prayers and instructions for his congregation by The Reverend George Charles Bettscontained within a small manual titled, “The Guide,” published Trinity Sunday 1877:

“Because by baptism we are ingrafted into Christ, it is most necessary that every precaution should be taken that no one should pass from this world without its grace. Therefore, if for any cause a priest cannot be had to administer it, and a person be in immediate danger of death, baptism may not only be validly but lawfully performed by any person whatsoever in which case, a deacon is to be preferred to a layman, and a man preferably to a woman, and a member of the church to a heretic.”

The Reverend George C. Betts is my great-great-grandfather. He was born in Ireland in 1840, immigrated to New York in 1861, and eventually settled in Chicago where he was in business for a short time before joining an Indiana regiment in the Union Army. When his enlistment was up, he went to Nebraska and studied for the ministry. George C. Betts was ordained in 1867.

You may have noticed. Grandfather Betts was a Yankee. That fact can be overlooked by his Southern progeny since, having hailed from Ireland, he wasn’t a “real” Yankee, and after all, he did redeem himself by becoming an Episcopal priest--a proud occurrence for a family of genetic Episcopalians.

Whatever Grandfather Betts was or was not, there is no doubt he was a product of his time with definite opinions regarding the role of women in the church.  If his instructions to his congregation are an indication, when it comes to suitability to administer the sacred sacrament of new birth, it is clear Grandfather Betts thought a woman falls far below a priest, a deacon, and most certainly a man, but thankfully above a heretic, even if only sightly. He did however concede a female would suffice if the probability of immediate death is evident.

I never gave much thought to Grandfather Betts' instructions. The chance of such an occasion arising for me was quite unlikely. However, his words came to mind as I stood beside my infant granddaughter Alden Betts in the neonatal intensive care unit on a crisp autumn morning.  I held her tiny hand and watched life-monitoring machines fluctuate wildly.

Alden didn't appear to be in danger of "passing from this world" as had her mother three days after her birth. If my prayers were the determining factor, she would not, and the doctors assured me all was well. I don't know why an urgent sense arose that perhaps we shouldn't delay her baptism.  

As is tradition in the Episcopal Church, plans were already made for baby Alden's christening. In only a matter of weeks, on the first weekend in December, the family would gather, this time not to bid farewell to a loved one as we so recently had for my daughter Tara, but to welcome her beloved child of God into the fold.  I tried to dismiss the notion of proceeding, not wanting to render the upcoming gathering unnecessary in the eyes of family members who might think their travels pointless if Alden were already baptized. Besides, I was alone in the room with Alden with no priest, deacon, or man in sight. 

I recalled my promise to my Tara as she lay dying, "I will take care of your children, Spencer and Alden, until the day you can do it."  Why that recollection came in that moment and what it had to do with Alden's baptism I didn't know.  In the end, the urge to act was so powerful as to not be denied. Even though I hardly thought myself qualified for the job, I resigned myself to the task at hand.  

I had no water, an essential element for baptism, so I did as mothers have done through the ages when their children need washing and water is unavailable.  I licked my thumb and made the sign of the cross on Alden's tiny forehead.

“Alden, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  You are sealed as Christ’s own forever.”

I told no one of the sacred secret between Alden, Tara and me. I wasn’t sure my actions would be accepted as a real baptism anyway. It was real to me, and I believe it was real for Alden. If it was real to God, that is all that matters.  And even though I know my baptismal method was a bit unorthodox, somehow, deep down, I think Grandfather Betts would approve. 


Matt. 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

"Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life."~Albert Einstein

-Are there traditions of faith that have great meaning for me?  If so, what are they?