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Saturday, August 29, 2015


In my "Introduction to Baptism" post, found here, I eluded to the fact that I have a personal baptism story that is, perhaps, less than what I wish it was... or at least it used to be... until I started studying what baptism should be...

When it comes to symbols, there is a very awkward tension for me.  So much of what I really love to do is about the experience of it, and the more senses that can be engaged, the better. And yet, it is also really important to me to capture moments (often as pictures) in order to remember them and to even re-live them to a certain extent.  I think a lot of people fall into one category or the other.  There are the people who enjoy the experiences and there are those who document the moments.  I like to do both, and that often means that I need to participate in things multiple times to get them "just right".  I like having a second (or third... or fifty-seventh...) chance at things.

I am thinking about this a lot lately as I am deep in the vacation planning process.  Ride pictures might be the best example I can offer.  I really love roller coasters.  I am an adrenaline junkie.  This has been passed down to at least three of my five children, and I'm really hoping this next trip will confirm my suspicion that my littlest one is also going to be a "rider".  The clicking on the way up the hill, the realization that the drop is really much steeper than you'd imagined, the hope that your restraint is just a little bit too loose, because there is nothing quite like catching air, throwing your arms up at the last minute.  Come on... who doesn't love to fly?

This desire for thrills has rubbed off most noticeably on my oldest daughter.  She is all about the experience.  She couldn't care less about the picture at the bottom of the hill.  And as much as I love the experience, too, this drives me crazy!  I mean, what really happened if there is no photographic evidence?  Did anything happen?  How will you remember the experience?  On most rides, I know where the cameras will flash.  If I don't, I try to scout it out ahead of time.  And if the picture turns out blurry... or dark... or if someone's flailing arm is in my face... or the face of one of my family members... It's no big deal (ahem).  We just have to ride again.  And sometimes again.  And again.  Well, you get the point.  Oh, I want to live the moment, but I also want to own it.  But sometimes I think the owning casts a shadow on the experience. 

If you're still reading, I hope I haven't lost you.  We were talking about baptism, right?

I was baptized at age ten.  In the church tradition in which I grew up, you got baptized when you wanted to "join the church".  Which meant you could "take communion".  You had to "come forward" at the end of a Sunday morning service, and that was no easy task for a kid who spent most of her time trying to blend in with the walls.

There were classes about which I remember almost nothing except that I had to pick a Bible verse to recite at my baptism, and I picked John 3:16, and another kid in the class thought that was a really lame verse to pick, because everyone knows that one, and my choosing it probably meant that I didn't know any other Bible verses, and maybe I didn't even have one that was meaningful to my life.  That's not really what I would like to remember about the process leading up to my baptism, all these years later, but it is what I remember, nevertheless...

On the actual night of my baptism, we invited friends and family to come to the church, and I wore a frumpy dress under a baptismal robe, and I must have mumbled my way through John 3:16, after all, and you would think that with this many details stuck in my brain I could remember the actual moment of baptism, but honestly, I can't. 

Then I went home, and we had cake, and there were cards and gifts.  And I actually do have a picture to commemorate the party.  I look absolutely miserable in it, and you know, I mentioned the frumpy dress, right?  This is not something that you post on a blog.  I promise.  Neglecting to share the picture is not causing anyone to miss anything significant.

That's my baptismal narrative.  And I don't like it very much.  But, the thing about baptism is it's a onetime deal, so it's not like those roller coasters that you can ride again and again until you get the perfect shot... or even the perfect experience.

And yet... 

My experience does not negate the grace that God imparts in baptism.

Jesus' baptism is really cool.  I especially like how a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  I wonder if this is said at every baptism.  In that moment, are we declared children of God?  Children God loves?  Children with whom God is well pleased?

This has caused me to consider that it might not be the experience or the visual that has been a problem for me.  It's the audio.  When I was ten, and OK, even now, I have some degree of trouble turning down the noise all around me to hear the quiet words that affirm that I belong, not because of anything I have done, but because of what God has done.  And those are pretty important words to hear...  Definitely worth listening...


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