The Faith of a Plebe

by Elise Seyfried

Our long wait was over. After a separation that began June 30, on a mid-August weekend, we were finally reunited with our “plebe,” US Naval Academy Midshipman 4th Class Evan Seyfried. Parents’ weekend was a most welcome chance to visit, to take Evan off the academy grounds (the “Yard”) for his first liberty, and to hear stories of his incredibly challenging summer.

We were surrounded by other families equally thrilled to see their sons and daughters, equally amazed at the transformations. Casual amblers had become brisk and purposeful walkers; “relaxed” housekeepers had become experts on cleaning supplies and techniques; kids who couldn’t remember last night’s dinner back home now could recite the King Hall daily menu verbatim.

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Evan’s experience and the Christian life.

The navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment are the engines that drive the academy. The naval officer is held to a high standard and is expected to hold himself to an even higher one. Over four carefully planned years, the students are expected to push themselves to new levels of physical, mental, and moral development each day, so that after commissioning they are prepared to lead others and to serve their country – that is the ultimate goal.

The Christian life is also a challenge to be persons of honor, courage, and commitment. Grateful for the ultimate gift we have been given as children of God, we show that gratitude by being good caretakers of our minds, our bodies, and our souls. We strive to make solid moral choices every day, to lead by example, and to serve others before ourselves.

The plebe’s journey begins on induction day. Over 1000 teenagers are outfitted in white uniforms, the boys’ heads are shaved, and they plunge right into their rigorous training. That evening, they stand in Tecumseh Court and take an oath of office and are enlisted in the US Navy. Looking at that sea of anxious and exhausted faces, it is clear that the oath is a necessary – but only faintly understood – part of a very old ritual. Even so, that “I do” symbolizes the start of a very real commitment to an ideal, to something greater than them.

The Christian journey begins with baptism. The baby, like the plebe, is garbed in white – and often bald! The baby is blessed, and his sponsors make promises on the baby’s behalf. The child has become part of something greater, a member of God’s realm. The baby doesn’t understand – yet – but it will.

Six weeks after Induction Day, an utterly transformed group of young men and women gather once again for a Reaffirmation Ceremony. Wearing dress whites, they salute sharply and stand proudly, having survived the crucible of plebe summer. Once more they are asked to take the same oath. This time, their “I do” is shouted, with much more confidence and conviction than before. They are beginning to learn what being a naval officer is all about. They have surprised themselves with the limits they have already overcome. As parents, we are deeply touched, and look ahead to the time four years from now, when that same oath will mean still more to these fine young people, because of the way they have lived.

The Christian formation that takes place through childhood, both at church and at home, is another kind of crucible. Through study, nurturing, example, and trial, children learn how to live a life of value. They come to respect themselves and to respect others. They learn to make good choices, and so they grow in their faith as they grow physically.

On Confirmation Day, young people stand before their church family and reaffirm their baptism. They are dressed in their Sunday best, standing proudly and confidently. This time, they can speak and think for themselves. This time, they have come to some understanding of what those words and promises mean. And as they continue on this lifelong journey, their lives will mean more and more as they strive to walk with Christ.

The rewards of a life bathed in the love of God are incalculable. This journey is well worth taking. But we all have to start somewhere. A life of faith begins with the first small step. It begins with the faith of a plebe.

 

Elise Seyfried is the Director of Spirtual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran in Oreland, Pennsylvania.

 

Excerpted from the book Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life.

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