Monday, December 11, 2006

On Baptism

I did it again. You know that thing I do where I disappear from blogging for a while because I'm off thinking about too many things to say and doing too many things I want to talk about. Yeah, it's been one of those weeks. And I'm really not sure where to start, or what to focus on, or where to end up. Because everything is tumbling over everything else, and everything is connected to everything else, and everything I want to say seems to necessitate starting somewhere else.

I honestly feel like I might have to start in 1982. I was four years old. I was a little kid in Sunday School, and I decided that I wanted to be a Christian. So, I prayed a cute little four-year-old prayer, asked Jesus into my heart, and promptly quit sucking my thumb.

But I didn't get baptized at four years old. Probably for the most practical reason that my church didn't have a baptistery, and for the slightly more theological reason that I was only four years old and the deeper significance of baptism was lost on me. My church district, however, had a camp, and that camp had a lake, and every summer, the whole church district would have a big ol' baptism in the lake. Each candidate would give a short testimony about why they wanted to make this public declaration of their faith, and then they would get dunked in the lake and everyone would cheer when they came back out, dripping and smiling. The deeper significance of baptism started to take form for me.

Baptism is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And I'm sure I'm stepping on someone's toes by talking about baptism the way I am, but there's a good reason for it, I promise. I just feel like a lot of background is necessary for some stories, because some of you only know me through what I write here, and if I don't give you background, you miss out on a big part of the story. But essentially, there are two kinds of baptism practiced in Christian churches. There is infant baptism, which I like to think of as the baptism of adoption. It's the kind of baptism practiced by the Catholic church, but by many, generally more liturgical, protestant churches, as well. And, since my church doesn't practice infant baptism, I'm sure I will butcher the symbolism, but basically, it's a consecration of a child to God, a commitment on the parents' part to raise the child in the way of the church, and a physical/spiritual/symbolic/metaphysical act of adoption into the family of God, much like circumcision.

Without getting into an argument about it, my church doesn't practice infant baptism. Both Jeremy and I were dedicated to the church as infants, which covers the consecration/membership side of baptism. But our churches leave the actual, symbolic, water-dunking part of baptism for later. This kind of baptism is called believer's baptism, and it basically is a personal testimony and physical demonstration of a decision to dedicate one's life entirely to God.

I was baptized when I was about 10 or 11 years old, at my church camp. My grandfather, who was a missionary in Central America, was visiting for the summer, and my grandfather was my spiritual hero. If I got baptized that summer, it meant that my grandfather could be the one to baptize me, and that opportunity might never arise again. The timing was perfect.

Jeremy, like me, accepted Christ when he was about four or five years old. Like me, he didn't fully understand the significance of baptism at the age of four. His church, however, had a baptistery, so baptisms happened more than once a year. And his grandfather wasn't a missionary who visited his church camp once or twice in a lifetime. So, although somewhere along the line, Jeremy probably reached a point in his spiritual journey where he should have been baptized, there were no major milestones to commemorate and no dramatically impeccable timing to pinpoint now as the moment in his life when he should be baptized.

Until we decided to join our church, when Jeremy's non-baptized-ness became a very prominent point. It meant that I was able to become a member of the church, but he was not. And suddenly, Jeremy became acutely aware that he couldn't just keep pushing baptism off until some indefinite future point. Somewhere along the line, his now had come. So he talked to our pastor, and the two of them hammered out a plan.

Now, our current church has a baptistery. But it leaks. And, even if it didn't leak, it resides in the sanctuary, which we can only use during the summer months because there is currently no heat to the sanctuary. Besides, my romantic associations with baptism in a natural setting had rubbed off on Jeremy somewhere along the line, and he wanted to get baptized outside. In December. In the northeastern United States.

We had a bit of a cold snap last week. Nothing like the snow my mother encountered on her trip to Halifax, but the puddles were frozen on my way to work at least one morning. Katie told us that they would break ice to do baptisms at her home church, though, so we pressed on with our plans, undaunted.

Sunday morning dawned bright and cold. I know it's a cheesy line, but it's true. The thermometer on the bank's digital sign read 33 degrees at 9 am, but the sun was shining, and all of the men who would be braving the water that day had come prepared. Jer had a wetsuit to wear under his clothes, the pastor had hip-waders, and Jer's dad, his sponsor, was armed with nothing more than a couple layers of clothing and nerves of steel.

After the service at the church, we caravanned down to the Wissahickon and gathered at the water's edge. Okay, so it's technically a creek, but Katie and I sang, "Down to the River to Pray," and our brave men waded out into the frigid waters, and one of them had the privilege of being shoved under by the other two, and pulled back out, dripping and smiling. We all cheered, including the group of curious onlookers on the opposite bank who had gathered to see what the crazy church people were doing.

I have so many thoughts tumbling over one another right now, and I fear that I have only managed to nail down the bare bones of the whole thing. I'm extremely proud of my husband, for taking the initiative to do something that he felt needed to be done, and without putting it off any longer. Logically, he could have waited for next summer, or for our heat and our baptistery to be fixed. But sometimes the answer for too much waiting simply can't be more waiting. Jeremy is still sick. He has a routine but fairly invasive procedure scheduled for this weekend, and we're hoping that it might bring some answers about his condition. But it may not. And we can't keep putting off living our lives based on the possibility that maybe, just maybe, answers might be around the corner. So we took a leap of faith. Not that being baptized would miraculously heal him (although we wouldn't mind such a thing, hint hint, God, if you happen to be reading), but that his life, our life, is more than this stupid illness.

We had big plans when we decided to move south. Almost exactly a year ago, we packed up a truck, braved a couple of blizzards, ran out of gas on highway 81, and squeezed our lives into a bedroom in Jeremy's parents' basement. But here we are, a year later, still waiting for our lives to start. And waiting really sucks. So, I'm excited about Jeremy's decision to get baptized on a spiritual level, but also on a personal level. I feel like he's taking ownership of his life, in its current state. I feel like, maybe, it's a step towards living again, rather than constantly waiting for everything to work out so that we can live a certain way. I'm optimistic again, and for once, my optimism doesn't hinge on the results of the next battery of tests or on something in our situation changing. It hinges on believing that God is faithful in all circumstances. Not that he's going to make everything better, which many well-meaning people seem to like to tell me is the case. But simply that this life that I've been given, as it stands right now, is livable. Not much of a revelation, I know, but it's refreshing to have a kind of non-situational optimism for a change.


Kate said...

Great post! I'm glad you were able to get the words our, whether you're completely satisfied with them or not. 98%

Jule Ann said...

Thanks, Kate, it means a lot!

jd said...


susie1998 said...

You didn't totally butcher the symbolism of infant baptism. I'm happy to say you were pretty right on about it and I thank you for it.

I am so happy to read your post. It really makes me happy to read the posts from a newly optimistic Jule Ann :)

Laura said...

This post is another gem from the world of Jule Ann :)

As someone who grew up with the teaching of believer's baptism but has recently come to a more full understanding of infant baptism, I really appreciated your sharing of your background on baptism.

Jeremy (and all who participated) have my deep admiration. I wouldn't be signing up for an outdoor baptism in December in that kind of weather. Sounds like a Christian version of the "polar bear" club.

twilighttreader said...

Nice post indeed. You have prompted me to blog about baptism, and the role it played in my life (which, as seems to happen often, was rather opposite the role it was supposed to)... which I shall do as soon as the kitchen is not a vile reeking hellpit.