>It’s a safe bet that a majority of people raised in the church don’t remember their baptisms because they were infants or toddlers when they were emmersed, sealed and marked as Christ’s own. Then there are those Christians who for whatever reason weren’t baptised until they were older children, youth or adults. I’m in the second category.
Actually, I’m not.
My baptism happened when I was eight years old on a warm August evening. For days I’d been pestering my mother about becoming Christian. All of my friends were Roman Catholic (the largest denomination in town) and I wanted to be part of that exclusive club. Not because everyone else was doing it, mind, but because from an early age, I felt it was necessary for me to be who I was.
Let me give you the back story: my parents were Roman Catholic on my mother’s side and Lutheran on my father’s. My parents were married in the middle of World War II in a civil ceremony. Because of this, we weren’t baptised as children due to the prohibitions of the church in those days.
I pestered my mother with questions about God, religion, Jesus, Mary and Joseph – which is what she used to sigh when I posited yet another question: “If women can’t do anything in the church like boys, why did Jesus see Mary first?” – “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Ellen! The questions you ask!”
I continued my quest for baptism until one night my mother had had enough of my questions and sent me to bed.
I climbed under the covers so my sister couldn’t hear my sobbing. When it was quiet and I was sure everyone was asleep, I went to the bathroom and turned on the taps. Filling up a glass of water, I tossed it on my face saying, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit – you’re baptised! Amen!”
That’s not what my mother said when she came in and saw the water all over the bathmats and tiles.
I didn’t mind the week of restriction for payment for audacity. I felt I had done the right thing.
My truly Christian baptism came 34 years later at the age of 42, at my home parish of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, at the Great Vigil. Here I was sealed and marked, and seared – the baptismal water was a tad warm and I was the first to be baptised that evening. The rector whispered to me, “It’s a little warm,” as she baptised me. I still have a mark on my forehead where the first drops of water landed. I consider it my outward and visible sign.
Why did it take me so long to be baptised?
I went through Roman Catholic catechism and I read the baptismal covenant. Frankly, I didn’t think I could keep the promises I was being asked to make: “Will you proclaim by word and exaple the Goods of God in Christ?” Well, I figured, in order to do that, I’d have to be better than others – act better and live a better life than most. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” For me, it was hard to find a loving Christ in fellow office workers, family members, even myself – and serving them!
For years I struggled with these questions, and then I realized that God doesn’t want me to be perfect, just do God’s perfect work. Christ said, “Be perfect as our Father is perfect.” But what does that mean? God created our world! God is everywhere! How am I able to do that?
Creation is full of little mistakes and imperfections, just like me. God wants me to to strive for the holiness one can only have with a deep and committed relationship with Him through Christ and creation, through my brothers and sisters.
Baptism, I discovered, doesn’t make you holy, it sets in motion a wonderful, frightening journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Eventually, we all get there. How we get there is up to us and God and it begins with one step at a time, the first when we put a toe in the Jordan River.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,