I stepped down the hall to a naturalization ceremony. It was a moving affair, a lot like a baptism in many ways.
The soon-to-be citizens and their families were mostly in their Sunday clothes. This being Portland, many were Asians. There was also a man from Africa, a middle-aged Irish gentleman with a an American flag pin on the lapel of his tweed coat, a white-haired old lady who was maybe a Slav, a robed Muslim matriarch with daughters in (modest) skirts, and many others. Everyone was a little nervous and a little reverent and a little excited and very much being shepherded around, and afterwards there were refreshments . Hence the baptismal air.
When I came to think of it, though, I saw the naturalization ceremony was more like a marriage than a baptism. Baptism has about it the air of inevitability. Through this gate and no other you enter the kingdom. Christ alone is the father of this rebirth–you have no option–and we, having been born of him too, are inevitably your brothers and sisters, will you or no. Marriage is different. A man chooses a wife as he wishes and she accepts him or another at her pleasure. There is nothing inevitable about marriage at all. Just so a naturalization.
Like marriage, I saw that the naturalization had in it something holy–God, I thought, must approve of people choosing to enter more fully into a community and a country. Like marriage, I didn’t see that any one country, even this America of ours, was the inevitable choice. These people chose us. They could have chosen others. As the immigrants became citizens, I was honored and moved. It was a relationship with me and my people they had entered in.