Friday, October 11, 2013

Baptism-It's not a slam dunk

Okay. I had to go there.
But as the community prepared for an adult baptism last week we had to ask again how do we as a Christian feminist community, in which all do not subscribe to any one way of thinking, make room for our different understandings of this important and sacred event?

We do have some traditions around baptism. 

One is that whatever method we use (sprinkle, pour or dunk) for the actual rite of baptism, a bowl of water is lifted from the whole (font or pool) and passed around the community. Each one holds the bowl and offers prayers, silently or aloud, for the one who is to be baptized and for their  journey with Godde.  The water is then returned to the font or pool that we will use for the baptism, mixing our prayers of blessing with the blessings of Godde.

The other is that we each tell the story of our own baptism. We actually do the work of remembering and telling. There are as many stories, experiences, understandings and meanings, from many different traditions, as there are people. 

Finally, when all have remembered and the one has been baptized, we turn to one another and say: This Godde says to you 'You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased!'

This time I heard from one of my Quakers parishioners who was feeling excluded by the event. Quakers do not baptize with water. They believe they are baptized by the Spirit.

I firmly believe that sacred rites and sacred rituals should not be events that exclude anyone from Godde. So I had to ask, "How do we hold that different understanding in one hand ,honor it and claim the power and importance of baptism by water in the other?" 

The conclusion is (of course) that we honor all baptisms. I encouraged her to reflect on her baptism by the Spirit and to share that when we got to that part of the service.  

I met with the person to be baptized (also a life long Quaker) and talked about what it meant to him, especially since ritual is not a part of his tradition. We talked about baptism as a communal event: we recognize the Christ in you and the claim it has on your life. We claim you as a child of Godde. We see you as Godde sees you. We recognize that you are called to embody Christ in the world. And we remember the time when we were claimed and how we are called to embody Christ.

When the time came, our Quaker friend, shared her experience and it lent us new wisdom. As did the memory and reflection of each  one. 

I preached on this passage from Mark 1:4-11 (NIV)
          And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with[e]water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

I hope we never approach sacred rituals believing we share some unspoken or rote understanding. The richness that comes from our differences can be trying but is mostly a blessing. For which I am deeply grateful. 

This week I learned again that some of the most important work I do as pastor of a diverse spiritual community is to make room.

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