Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Cost and Joy of Discipleship: Now THAT Was Church!

When Trixie was born, I had not yet joined the church; indeed, I wasn't even so much thinking of joining the church.  Old First was a community I loved -- Julie had been a part of it since she was a volunteer there in college, and she joined immediately upon our move to Philadelphia, five years before Trixie's birth.  I loved the people, loved working at the homeless shelter (where we were known as "the ice cream ladies"), but I was actually exploring Judaism at the time, and was pretty sure that wherever I landed, it would not be as a member of a mainline protestant church.  

As it turns out, Old First worked its way into my heart and soul, and through that community, I found myself casting my lot with Jesus and his wacky band of disciples.  If conversion is a "turning around," I've always thought of mine as a 360, rather than a 180, degree turn; my dad, the born-again atheist, lives the most Christ-like life of anyone I know, and my conversion to Christianity has simply given life and community and rhythm and story to the values of simplicity and hospitality and love and stewardship that are my birthright and my family's lifeblood.  So on the one hand, my conversion was simple and easy; but on the other hand, it was oh-so-difficult, and it was precisely baptism that was the stumbling block.

I was not baptized as an infant, much to the chagrin of my staunch Episcopalian Grandma Rose. My parents held firm though; their baby would not go through what felt to them like a meaningless ritual simply to appease the grandparents.  As it turns out, I am forever grateful for their choice on my behalf, because their choice not to baptize me meant that I had to very actively and consciously choose the church, rather than just falling into it.   Had I been baptized as an infant, I could have quietly joined Old First without having to think very hard about it. But baptism! Wow, that felt really big.  How would I know when I was really ready?  
How would I know if I really was a Christian? What if all those lingering doubts just made me a big old fraud?   It was my friend Donna (there she is, taking some of these pictures) who finally distilled my dilemma for me:  "Marta," she said, "It sounds like it's time to shit or get off the pot."  Yup! On the day of my baptism, though, I did not feel like a new-born child of God. Mostly I was in a really grumpy mood, and wished everyone would stop asking me how I felt, implying that I was supposed to feel something in particular which I most decidedly did not, confirming my own secret fears that I was, indeed, nothing but a big poser.  

I like to think that baptism, like conversion, is something we grow into, forever, and not something that happens and then it's done.  I had clearly come to the point in my conversion where I needed to continue my journey inside the church, so it was time to "get washed up." But I'm always glad to have the chance to renew my baptismal vows, as we do at St. Vincent's at Easter Vigil, where older children and adults are baptized -- with lots and
lots and lots of water!  I've been going to Easter Vigil (with Pat, Trixie's confirmation mentor and our dear dear friend) for years at St. Vincent's, the Catholic church in my neighborhood where I also sometimes attend the mid-day Mass.  And I've always loved all the water, big copper urns of it, poured over the heads of the kneeling candidates.  My own church's tradition is sort of a desert version; water is apparently scarce in the UCC, so just a few drops must do.  That was my own baptism, but I wanted something different for Trixie.

It felt important to both me and Julie that our children have a choice, especially since, when Trixie was born, my own spiritual quest had not yet landed me in the Christian faith, so Trixie and Micah were both dedicated as infants, but not baptized.  As it turns out, we did not give Trixie so much of a choice; she has been very much raised in the Christian church (so much so, that once as a toddler, when we pulled into our church's parking lot, Trixie declared, "We're home!"  It occurred to us then that perhaps we were spending too much time at the corner of Fourth and Race.)  But whether or not we have really given her a true choice, her baptism is something that she has been able to actively and fully embrace as part of her year of exploring her faith in anticipation of Confirmation, and I am glad for that. Normally, she would be quickly baptized, with a few drops of water, prior to the confirmation ceremony (scheduled for Pentecost, on the 31st), but she, Julie and I all wanted something more special, and with LOTS MORE WATER.

Lucky for us, our dear ones Woody and Joey have a heated pool, which, if you're in need, is now full of a whole lotta holy water!  This seemed an especially perfect place as Woody played John the Baptist in Old First's production of Godspell a couple of years ago. And Trixie is an avid swimmer, so a plan was hatched, and a wonderful service and pool party followed.  In the words of our friend Wanda, who co-officiated with Julie's father at the service:  "Now THAT was church!"  Indeed.

I will leave you with the lovely Prayer of Baptism from the UCC Book of Worship's baptism liturgy, which I have always loved:

We thank you, God,
for the gift of creation
called forth by your saving Word.
Before the world had shape and form,
your Spirit moved over the waters.
Out of the waters of the deep,
you formed the firmament
and brought forth the earth
to sustain all life.

In the time of Noah, 
you washed the earth
with the waters of the flood,
and your ark of salvation bore a new beginning.

In the time of Moses,
your people Israel passed
through the Red Sea waters
from slavery to freedom
and crossed the flowing Jordan
to enter the promised land.

In the fullness of time,
you sent Jesus Christ,
who was nurtured 
in the water of Mary's womb.

Jesus was baptized by John
in the water of the Jordan,
became living water to a woman
at the Samaritan well,
washed the feet of the disciples,
and sent them forth
to baptize all the nations
by water and the Holy Spirit.
Bless by your Holy Spirit,
gracious God, this water.
By your Holy Spirit
save those who confess
the name of Jesus Christ
that sin may have not power over them.
Create new life in Trixie
baptized this day
that she may rise in Christ.
Glory to you, eternal God,
the one who was, and is, and shall always be,
world without end.

Lots more photos on Facebook (Margaret? Marjorie? I'm just sayin')


Eric said...

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!! That's refreshment!

Marta said...

thanks, eric! maybe you can co-officiate for micah, huh? smooch.