Each day, I try to read at least a chapter from each of several books in which I am immersing myself at the moment. One of the books I am reading right now is Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro. Okoro’s voice reminds me a bit of the writerly voice I strive for: honest, quirky, humorous, serious when necessary, and compassionately smart. She achieves this voice in a way that I hope one day I will. In tonight’s reading, her thoughts about baptism reminded me of my own:
It is fascinating to me as a writer that the portal into the life of God is through water and word. Somehow the Holy Ghost shacks up in our souls with a verbal lease-to-buy agreement (depending on your tradition), and we are sealed to God for eternal life. I’m not going to pretend I get all that. But I do find the thought of it absolutely beautiful. Whenever I hear the words “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” during a baptismal service at church, I clutch my heart and gush as though I’ve just seen a baby panda rescued by a fleet of tiny forest nymph-like fairy angels.
I was baptized when I was somewhere around five years old after “accepting Jesus into my heart” at the ripe old age of four. I had no idea what I was getting into (had I known the many twists and turns my spiritual journey would take, I might have run away) when I asked my mom to pray with me in the living room of our small ranch home. She was sitting in the brown recliner, watching television, and I had been reading my Bible in my room. I remember walking out and asking her about being “saved.” She invited me to climb up into the chair with her, and I think I remember sitting on the foot rest portion of the recliner while she sat in the seat. I think I remember her praying a prayer of forgiveness and confession, and I think I remember praying it, line by line, after her. I know I remember feeling holy when we had finished, like I had done something life altering and important. I remember.
After getting saved, everyone knows the way to seal or bind that salvation is through baptism, so I was the youngest person in the membership class at Hartford City First Church of the Nazarene (we quickly migrated to Methodism). I learned the quick and dirty version of what it meant to be a Christian, and shortly after the class, all of us who had taken it were baptized.
I wore a little white sundress that might have had blue trim and possibly had some fabric applique fruits on the front. The sun shined warm on my summer-tan skin. The slight breeze kept blowing my skirt, as I walked barefooted in the sand on the beach at Taylor Lake. The water was thick and brown with algae covering the surface in spots. The beach was clear as the brightness shimmered off the calm surface. I felt so important. I was making a public profession of my faith in Jesus. I had somehow missed the part about dying to attain life; I just knew I loved Jesus and wanted everyone else to know it, too.
Having waded out until the water was about chest deep, I remember feeling calm, at home, peaceful. The pastor pinched my nose and covered my mouth with his palm. He spoke, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Dunk. “Amen.” I went under the surface, I was lifted back up, and I was a new little girl. I had been born, died, and resurrected in Christ. I was a new creation. The old was gone, and the new had come.
This moment is one of the many reasons why I love swimming and being near water, why it is my lifeblood. Each time I swim, I can remember my baptism and be grateful. Each time I look out the window to see the river across the street, I can remember my baptism and be grateful. When I think about the spiritual formula presented by Okoro, I realize why words are so important in my life as well: water and words are the portal into life with God. Through those two elements, I remember my baptism. Each time I remember my baptism, I renew my faith, and it is absolutely beautiful.