Friday, April 29, 2005

Celebrating my re-birth-day

The pictures are buried in a box, in one of a hundred slide canisters...it's been a while since I've seen them, but I remember them oh so clearly. Captured in vivid colors, frozen in the amber of Kodachrome, are my mother and father, Helen and Joe, standing in the nave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Williamsville, NY. Nearby stands Joe's Mom and sister Roma, and Helen's sister Mary and her husband Charlie. In the center, Father Schweier - white-haired and kindly - and a roly-poly baby in a white gown with blue bows and blue buttons.

April 28, 1957. My baptismal day.

Scripture - the Word of God. Prayers, asking the blessing of God. Water, poured over the wispy hair of the month-old infant, sign of the promise of God. A priest's finger, dipped in a cruet of oil, and a cross marked on a forehead. "Steven, child of God, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen."

Two years shy of five decades ago. What a long, strange trip it's been...

Now, I know: the fastest way to start a fight among Christians (short of using the H-word) is to start a discussion about baptism. One group claims it is the salvific washing away of sins, while another sees it simply as an entrance into the Christian Community. Another group insists on baptising infants; yet another demands that only "true believers" can be baptized; and so on. Complicating my own matters is the fact that I no longer practice the tradition in which I was baptized. So the discussion could get long, and arduous, and somewhere between interminable and indeterminate.

There are days, even recently, when I wish I could be rebaptized - somehow to reclaim the promise: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18b, NIV). And then there are days - those "rotating spiritual brown-out" days - when I'm not sure that being sprinkled (or even dunked) in water could wash away my sins, and I'm looking at Home Depot for a power-washer capable of blasting the accumulated gunk of four-point-eight decades of sin off my soul. But this evening, reflecting on the Scriptures around baptism, I'm reminded that I'm buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead Colossians 2:12, NIV).

It's been a long day - and I don't feel particularly re-born tonight. But my faith still stands that the water, the Word, and the promise has the power to transform me, and to continue my own transformation.

And for today, that's a good enough. This day, as the sun rose, I heard the old Phillips, Craig and Dean song on the radio, saying "You make your mercy new every morning." For me, that's a promise enough to put me to bed tonight, and to get me to rise tomorrow. And if, by God's grace, I do rise to greet the son, I'll celebrate another day of re-birth. Soli deo gloria..

8 comments:

Michael said...

Well, I was baptized twice, so does that make me an Anabaptist Catholic?

My first baptism was as a nine-year old "adult" -- we did not believe in infant baptism -- in February of 1960 in the fundamentalist church my family attended in East Texas. I felt so good afterwards, because the fire-and-brimstone sermons had pretty well convinced me that I was going to burn when Jesus came back (probably next week) and now I felt secure.

Horribly enough, within two months an older relative began sexually abusing me, and all consolation disappeared. Even though what happened to me was not my fault, I was too young to realize that and too frightened to talk to anyone about it. And I had already been baptized -- there was nothing to do now to get rid of this incredibly terrible thing. The next few years (the abuse continued for about three) were pretty dismal.

On June 6, 1970, I was conditionally baptized into the Roman Catholic church. That was partly due to my inability to get records of my previous baptism, although the priest believed it was most likely valid. After all, I have been thoroughly dunked in the name of the Big Three.

Again, I felt wonderful and that feeling lasted a good long time. In fact, I think since then I have never doubted God's unconditional love and acceptance of me. I have made plenty of mistakes, missed the mark lots of times. But the grace of baptism this time was not just an experience of being washed clean but an experience of being admitted into God's family. And that doesn't go away. Not even when some of the servants in the household want to lock me out.

Happy rebirth!

Keith Brenton said...

Steve, I'm just going to post a link to what I've come to believe about The Gift of Baptism, and confess that very few in my fellowship (Churches of Christ) would agree with me. That's okay. You might not either. That's fine. You're still my brother as far as I'm concerned, and I hope you consider me yours!

renee altson said...

love.

renee altson said...

love.

Monk-in-Training said...

Steve,
Amazingly enough, I am teaching adult Education this Sunday on the subject of Baptism!
One thing we do (in the Episcopal Church) is that when a person is baptised, we (the community) share in that baptism by a renewal of our baptismal vows. I find it to be a powerful connection with my own washing away of sin.

One thing Baptism means for us, is as the Apostle Paul said to the Romans. Nothing in this world will separate us – ever – from God’s love, care and concern for us. The essential reality – made known in baptism - is that we belong to God and He loves us. Nothing can change that reality. We’re marked as Christ’s own forever, branded with the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We’re loved deeply, fully, completely.

Rick said...

I cannot help but wonder if God through the eyes of love and the heart of grace looks at you-- a human-- and says to himself this is my son in whom I am well pleased. perhaps Jesus opened that door for all of humanity.

I love you bro.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Our denomination holds that one baptism, at whatever time, is enough--it's more a membership in Christianity itself (our creed speaks of "the holy catholic church"), not so much a denomination. You were in one room of the house; now you're in another. And your struggles are blessed in the eyes of God. Happy anniversary, Steve.

wilsonian said...

Congrats, indeed! And when you're not feeling particularly 'clean', check behind your ears. Still damp.

Williamsville, eh? I'm grew up in Crystal Beach, Ontario. Small world :)