A person who had been baptized as a small infant once said to me, “As far as I’m concerned, nothing happened.” She did not have any memory of it, of course, but something dramatic happened, and her subsequent life as a Christian was proof of it.
I cannot empathize with the sentiment that when I was baptized as an infant nothing happened, because my baptism was hilarious. When I think of myself and who I am and have been over the years, of course this happened to me. It couldn’t not.
As I have said before, when I was a kid my dad was a pastor. Therefore, I was not baptized by my father, I was baptized by his then-bishop, Bishop Crutchfield. When he put the water on my head, I urinated all over him. I don’t know whether he was a good boss or not, having been so little when my dad worked for him, but I imagine my dad going to two emotional places depending on the nature of their relationship….. the first being abject horror and the second being a pat on the head for a job well done. In any case, after the laying on of blessed water, my own seal had been set… one that I was not exactly present for but comes in handy nonetheless. Even in baptism, I am legendary in an unusual way.
We are at that point in the story with Jesus. Our gospel today is John the Baptist and the baptizing of Jesus, where God swoops in like Gladys Herdman writ large and says, you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Even in baptism, he is legendary in an unusual way. Jesus got the spirit descending like a dove, I got a story that follows me to this day about peeing on someone. Seems legit. It’s like we have ONE BRAIN.
The present day connection is a struggle for preachers that John, one of the commenters, brought up:
I think one of the hardest things for people to understand both about baptism and eucharist is that something really does happen in these sacraments. They really do impart God’s grace–they are not simply rites. Yet, in people’s experience of life these connections are not always made. One of the challenges for us as preachers is to struggle with helping people make these connections– to enter into the mystery of how indeed God’s grace in these sacraments is really present. When someone says to us that for them “nothing happened” in their baptism, or reception of eucharist, it is important to remember that their experience of “nothing happening” is something happening–and invite them to explore and struggle with what that feeling of nothing happening is inviting them to engage. Can even this experience and feeling become an invitation to open themselves (and ourselves) to new possibilities of experiencing God’s grace and presence in ways that transcend our objective experience and reasonable thought–opening to us that mystical dimension of encounter with the holy? After all, the benefits of both baptism and eucharist are not dependent on our understanding of them, intellectually or otherwise. Perhaps if we can help people into such an engagement, we can reawaken a sense of the mystical realities that have become largely lost in our time.
Those words undid me for a little bit. I had to really think about them, because I was born with the type personality that does that…. to the conclusion of all else, mostly. I want to bring you the light of ritual, that it is a connection worth having to keep you strapped to the earth when you’re about to fall off. I had that moment, and my faith was the safety net that caught me. Looking toward mysticism instead of away from it is a valuable tool to understanding yourself, even as an Atheist- if you can’t believe in a God but you CAN believe in The Force, The Doctor, and Captain Mal, you can relate to what I am saying. It is not God that unlocks you, it is your agreement. It is not God’s promise but how and when you meet it.
Mary chose to save the world from itself; I say again, “what are you here to do?”
What does your own baptism entail? There is a reason the phrase “baptism by fire” is so popular. It is emotional shorthand for a truly gigantic idea…. that only the brightest hope and promise for our lives is based on the degree to which we screw up and feel saved by inner peace instead of distracting the journey with drugs, sex, and screwing with other people’s emotions just because that’s what you know to do and won’t step out of it because you feel like you can’t and won’t because it hurts too much to try.
That’s fire. Looking at your own iniquities and being able to own them and express them out loud so that people know when you act on your kid fears, it’s not their fault. It’s what causes the Holy Spirit to descend upon you like a dove, because just like a thief that’s been caught, you’ll be able to sleep soundly again.
The light in Christ’s baptism is when we take it into ourselves and wake up baptized with the possibility of new light…. That sleep refreshes us into the innocence of an infant so that there is a balance between having to be tough as nails to protect yourself and weak enough to admit when you’ve really done it this time.
To bring the theological into the present, do you think that George Zimmerman will ever understand the enormity of what he’s done and the movement he’s started? What will it take for him to redeem himself in his own eyes? What will it take for him to stare down into all of those emotions and try to move on? This is assuming he is not a sociopath that can turn off his emotions entirely. He’s just a normal human being showing a disastrous amount of poor judgment. Light words in an enormous case, but if I can’t have empathy for criminals, I am in the wrong business entirely.
There have been many criminals baptized in Jesus’ name, and my best hope for them is that it isn’t a temporary response…. that they are truly turning away from the darkness in their hearts to create more hope for their families and friends, who by now are convinced that they will never get what they need because they’re not there. My mother used to teach many children whose lives had been interrupted by their parents in jail, some at the same time. The more the conversion is true and empowering, the more hope there is for taking darkness and using it to repel light………
Because you’ve been there. You’ve seen darkness enough to know that you need a baptism, even if you don’t think God is here….. because you are.
Maybe your darkness isn’t that severe, but it is the level of redemption you receive when you realize that baptism is the real deal, physically and metaphorically. It is a physical act that represents an enormous gift when you are old enough to take it in. It is the promise that living faithfully will prosper you more than fumbling in the darkness.
Like peeing on your dad’s boss in front of an entire sanctuary.