Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting Baptized

Everyone is asking me:  "How did your baptism go?"

The answer is 1) Good, and yet also 2) I'm not sure because I don't feel that it's over yet.  I mean, clearly I got out of the font, dried off, put on my regular clothes and went home.  But in another sense, energetically or emotionally or something, I feel like I jumped out of an airplane and I'm still free-falling, hoping that my parachute will open soon so that I can land.

Being baptized is most closely analogous to having a major birthday.  Like when you turn 16 or 18 or 30 or 40.  You know the birthday is coming.  You feel a building anticipation.  Then on the actual day, you wake up feeling surprisingly unchanged, and yet aware that you have passed a significant milestone and you can never go back.  It marks the midpoint of a process that extends to a fuzzy fade on either side, with no clear beginning or end.

Technically, it all went very smoothly.  Ken and I arrived at the church early to meet the three other folks who were also being baptized, and to get some stage directions.  We changed into our bathing suits, and then covered ourselves with royal blue gowns, the type you wear at graduation.

I had been under the impression that we were to wait in a holding room at the back until our names were called for the ritual.  Then I expected we would immediately go and change back into regular clothes before joining the congregation.  However, the pastor's wife led all five of us, barefoot and feeling naked under our voluminous robes, downstairs and into a pew, where we sang hymns with everyone else and listened to the weekly announcements.

There is nothing like being barefoot, underdressed, and nervous in a room where everyone else is smartly outfitted and serious to put one in the mindset of being around six years old.  I kept catching myself swinging my feet under the pew, or digging my toes into the carpet.

The gowns had generous slits at each side to allow the wearer to reach through and into his or her pockets.  This is a greatly convenient feature, if one is wearing pants.  In my case, I noticed that as I modestly clutched the front of the gown over my bare legs, the pocket-holes gaped, flashing slices of blue-white thigh at anyone who happened to be looking as we shuffled to and from our seats.  Well, anyway, God is familiar with my thighs and wouldn't be offended by them.  Everyone else just had to cope with the scandal.

After a few more hymns, we were led upstairs to what would be "stage left" in a theatre.  Or the green room if it were TV.  There were steps leading from this room directly down into the baptismal pool.  A microphone was set up on the edge of the pool.  One by one, we waded into the chest-deep water, then stood up on a little box that was at the bottom of the font to speak our testimony into the microphone.

I was 4th in line out of 5.  It was nerve-racking to watch as each individual spoke, voice cracking with emotion, and was then plunged underwater, returning to us dripping and forever changed.

When it was my turn, I descended gingerly into the water, gripping the handrail.  It was surprisingly warm, like stepping into a bath.  By the third step, I could see what I estimate to have been over 150 people looking back at me.  I cleared my throat, and heard the sound echoing back at me in stereo from speakers all around the ceiling.  I unfolded the paper containing my testimonial speech.  The microphone picked up the rustling and magnified it into every corner of the sanctuary.  Suddenly, I felt extremely small and self-conscious.

I stood up on the little underwater box, and read directly from my paper in as clear and steady a voice as I could muster.  Once I got started, it came easily.  At the end of my speech, I placed the papers at the edge of the font, along with my glasses.

The pastor asked me two ritual questions, to which I answered "Yes".  Then he took my wrists in one hand and, placing the other behind my back, bent me backwards until I was completely under the surface.  Chlorinated water rushed up my nose and into my sinuses.

Then I was up, wiping water from my eyes, pinching my burning nose, and finally locating my glasses, as the congregation launched into a hymn.  Dripping and shivering, more from emotion than cold, I climbed the stairs carefully back up to the green room, out of sight of the 150-plus pairs of eyes.  The pastor's wife smiled kindly and handed me a towel.

I joined the rest of the recently baptized folks, all of us sopping wet, and we watched the last woman give her testimony and then go under.  Once she returned, we shuffled off to the restrooms to get dry and change back into clothes.  Wonderful clothes!  It's been a long time since I was that grateful to be wearing shoes.

We returned to the sanctuary.  The pastor, who had also changed from his robe back into a suit, said a few words that drew on all five testimonies, weaving them into an inspiring closing message.  That was the end of the service.  But not the end of the experience.

As soon as we were dismissed, I'd estimate that half the congregation queued up to give us hugs, handshakes, kind words, and big smiles.  Everyone seemed completely genuine, and it was absolutely incredible and overwhelming to receive such a flood of support and love from people I'd never met before.  In the 7 weeks we'd been attending church, we'd met a dozen people at most.  

I was grateful that no one felt it necessary to introduce themselves by name, because my memory for names is horrible under even the most favourable circumstances, and by that point my rational brain was overwhelmed.  All I could do was smile, accept the hugs, and feel grateful to the bottom of my heart that I had joined such a lovely community.


unsigned said...

What a wonderful story! Sounds like it was a great experience!

Aurora said...

There is nothing like being barefoot, underdressed, and nervous in a room where everyone else is smartly outfitted

That sounds suspiciously like a common nightmare...the one where you show up at school naked and the bell has already rung...!

I'm glad the reality was so different. It's good you're so at home in the church community.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Cool!! A church with a Hot Tub!! :)
Not to mention the chance, on occasion, to see women in bathing suits, even if robed. Glad that you had such a moving experience with a such a friendly community.

Karen said...

What denomination were you baptized in to? I have never heard of an adult being completely dunked like that. But I was baptized at an infant with holy water drizzling over my head. I know every church is different and I hope that you wouldn't mind sharing your choice and what drew you to that denomination.

Sparkling Red said...

Karen: It's a Baptist church. I felt comfortable going there because there is no central authority for Baptist churches. Each Baptist church is free to define its own beliefs, which allows for liberalism in some but stricter creeds in others. The church I'm attending is quite liberal. So far as I know, the one thing that defines Baptist churches is their commitment to full-immersion baptism of consenting adults. If they don't have a font, they can go to a river, or a Rubbermaid horse trough will do!

whatigotsofar said...

Best wishes with the Christianity.

Claire said...

Such exciting times! Thinking of you and praying for you, hon.


Dianne said...

I smiled at the part about the scandal of your thighs marching into church - it's a wonderful image.

And the part about hearing the paper rustle and your own voice - very touching.

I think all adults should be rebaptized into their church - be it the one they grew up in or the one they choose. To be baptized as an infant has to do with your parents, not you.

Sorry I got here so late.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I'm playing catch-up here, hence the late reply.

I'm impressed that you took the plunge (no pun intended), and so soon. I have gone sniffing around Christianity a number of times over the past 30 years, but I always balk at the idea of going all the way and getting baptized.

You obviously feel you've found a home. May I say welcome home to you? :-)

Mainframeguy said...

ya know - I have had at least twenty odd of those "milestone" birthdays and have absolutely NO recognition of the feelings you describe... then again I have never been baptised - maybe that is what it is