Last Sunday, I was baptized. It’s not that I had not been baptized, I had. And it was not that I had not been baptized as an “adult”, because I was 12 at the time of my first baptism.
But during the course of our preaching class this fall, we read parts of Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life. In that book, she talks about how the preacher is really just someone that a community has decided to support in their full-time study of the Gospel, so that that person can act as a conduit between the community and God. And part of that job is for the preacher to wear the outward mark as one of God’s community and to wear that mark 24/7, for all to see. Then, she makes the most curious comment, that maybe there would be fewer people in God’s community if everyone had to wear that mark as the preacher wears it.
This struck me to the bone. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that comment since I read it. I think constantly about the ways in which I can be a visible member of God’s community, a visible missionary, a visible example of God’s grace in action in this world. And then I knew, it was time for a public statement of faith: it was time to be baptized.
For you see, while I was baptized as an adult, I was baptized a Presbyterian and well, it wasn’t a full immersion baptism. Now, I’m not going to say that there is anything wrong with a baptism that isn’t full immersion, but I will say that it became increasingly uncomfortable to me to be active in a Baptist church without the statement of faith made by public, full immersion baptism.
And so, I asked for it. Now, as is so typical of my psyche, I didn’t really think it through in any logical way. And when I went to Pastor Amy to ask to be baptized, I left out one really big detail — the fact that I am absolutely terrified of water.
Perhaps terrified is not a strong enough word — for most of my adult life I have been convinced that if my face were to actually go BENEATH the water line, that I would die, instantly.
Not as irrational a thought as it appears at first glance, though, for someone whose earliest memories include the dreadful, awful night on which storms knocked out the power citywide and her beloved older brother, 14 years her senior, died in an accident in which the car containing him and his friends plummeted off an incomplete bridge and into the Missouri River. Early lesson learned; water was not my friend. And that negative life lesson was followed by one disastrously unsuccessful swimming lesson after another.
Now, I did let Pastor Amy know that I was afraid of water. But, I didn’t tell her all the details. But my dearest JL, in that way of hers, tried to make it really clear just how bad a relationship I had with water, so, waiting to go into the baptismal font, Pastor Amy asked. Still not going into all the details (just didn’t seem like the time), I just said that it had probably been 35+ years since I had put my face in water.
And so, as she reached for my hand to lead me from behind the curtains into the visible portion of the baptismal font, I knew that the only answer was surrender. What else could baptism be about? The water frightened me, but the amazing faith of Pastor Amy and the wonderful congregation at Calvary Baptist was palpable that morning, and so, at least for a brief moment, I just let go. As I came up from the water, and she hugged me, and said, “You did it”, I was stunned. It is not a cliche that in that moment, you feel the surge of new life, another chance, a new strength and a new hope. As I walked carefully back to the steps with my candle in my hand, I opened my ears to listen, and breathed in all that I could in that moment (particularly since I only had a few moments — I had to run down the stairs and change to join the choir for the Biebl Ave Maria and the Pinkham Christmas Cantata!)
And here, most surprisingly, is the biggest lesson from those few minutes, and from the next few days afterwards: after being baptized, I felt the same way that I feel when I have just sung a song or a recital program, and I know for certain that I was fully communicating, that everything worked to deliver the message of faith and grace and beauty that for me, is always a part of music and musical performance. All my cells were active: I could literally feel the new energy flowing through me, I felt like a Roman candle and I was pretty sure that with the right camera, someone might see fire coming out of my head.
So, perhaps I use a little hyperbole to make my point. But the one thing that the similarity between the act of baptism and the act of singing showed me is, well, yes, Lord, I guess that I really DO hear your message loud and clear, and I’ll keep going. What a gift that day gave me, the renewal of energy, the renewal of hope, the knowledge of so much love, and the validation of purpose and calling. Thank you to everyone who was there for being a witness.