Friday, May 8, 2009

Deliver Us Through Water

In the liturgical year, we are still in the Easter Season, a time to acknowledge and take notice of the presence of God's bounty all around us. Easter also is a time of renewal and in many churches, Easter Sunday is the day when Christians are baptized or renew their baptismal vows. Since baptism is an ancient ritual in Christianity, there was no surprise that we should celebrate baptism at the UUCF Revival.

I was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church, and I always felt a little cheated. The choice had been made for me. When I was old enough to actually understand what baptism meant and could embrace it, I was told that baptism was only needed once and I couldn't be baptized again. In the Catholic tradition, the alternative for older people is Confirmation, an adult's commitment to Christ. Infant baptism is considered by some theologians to be equivalent to Jewish circumcision and so continues the line of tradition from Old Testament times (see "A Brief History of Christian Baptism: from John the Baptist to John Smythe"). The use of water for ceremonial purification and ritual cleansing was known in many ancient pagan cultures as well as Hebrew ritual (see "Baptism: A Pre-Christian History"). I was curious to see how baptism played out in a Unitarian Universalist context.

The service itself (pg. 20 of the Revival Worship Booklet) was of the same form that I remembered from my nieces' and nephews' christenings--scripture readings of the baptism of Jesus, hymns, a prayer of confession to prepare, the blessing of water. There were many references to the Bible stories which tell of God's deliverance through water: Noah's ark, the parting of the Red Sea, the baptism of John, the springs of living water of the Spirit.

Two things stood out for me at that service. The first was the baptism of a fellow Christian "...In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in the name of the One who loves us all." I learned that although invoking the Trinity does not mesh well with the Unitarian theology from which our denomination arose, many people do wish to be baptized using this familiar form. Personal theology is given precedence. The second half of the baptismal phrase acknowledges those Unitarian roots. In UU fashion, a person being baptized may chose how they wish the invocation spoken.

The second memorable ceremony was the renewal of baptismal vows for the rest of us. Rev. Kathleen Rolenz taught us that Luther urged Christians to practice daily renewal of the baptismal covenant by placing a hand on the head each morning and saying, "I am a baptized person, and today I will live out my baptism." While Rev. Rolenz held the bowl of water, we each rose, dipped a hand in and touched our foreheads, repeating that promise silently or aloud. I have participated in numerous baptismal ceremonies, many in which the congregation is asked to responsively recite the renewal of baptismal vows, but I have never felt the rush of the Spirit as I did by the simple act of wetting my fingers in the cool water, pressing that water to the skin of my forehead and making a quiet, yet public declaration.

I have brought this particular ritual home. I don't do it every day, but when I do, I feel a centering and a calming in my soul. It reminds me of who I am. A Christian. And it reminds me of what I'm supposed to do. Walk the Way of Jesus in love and compassion.

Do you have any rituals that help you focus on your higher purpose, center you for the day ahead? If not, try the one I've described. Place your hand on your head and say...

"I am a baptized person and today, I will live out my baptism."

May it be so. Amen.

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