Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Baptism and the Shema

A week ago this evening, my oldest daughter was baptized. I wanted very much to reflect on that event in this venue, but my schedule lately has prevented me from doing much writing at all. So finally, here are a few thoughts.

This was certainly a pivotal point in my daughter’s life and spiritual journey. It also marks a significant high point of my own. My understanding of baptism has been deepening and broadening for several years. And, as I have come to see, that is exactly as it should be.

Baptism is a rite of initiation. It has been described as the doorway of the sacraments for it leads the initiate into the other sacraments. It is an act modeled for us by Jesus, and commanded by Him. It is described clearly by Paul as the sign of the New Covenant, a parallel to circumcision practiced by the Jews. It is most importantly, however, not a human act, but an act of God, who promises to work his way in us through this strange, mundane ritual.

At root, it is simply taking a bath. Washing up. Sprinkling, pouring, dunking – it’s all about the water. Somehow God uses this common ordinary water in some uncommon extraordinary way. Somehow, this symbolic ritual matters. A lot.

The Gnostic in us rebels against this. We like to ignore the inconvenience of baptism because it is so…material. It doesn’t seem spiritual enough. It’s all so wet and sloppy. Yet Christ clearly commands it. He uses it. Our baptism reminds us of our own story with Christ. He come for us. He died for us. He rose again for us. He dwells on high for us. He is with us in our baptism and our baptism is always with us. Ultimately it is His work, and not ours. It is what God does to us and for us in our baptism that really counts. But for some reason, he has set it up to work by the water.

So my daughter is baptized. Did she understand all the implications of what she was doing? Certainly not. Neither did I. Neither do I still. We who are in Christ, are all growing into our baptisms. At the end of the service, when we gathered around her to pray, I placed my hands on her head and prayed this prayer.

Great Heavenly Father,
Bind this girl to you now, and bind yourself to her, to never ever let her go. May she grow into you and you into her, blossoming in understanding and grace.
May she grow ever to be smart and strong and brave and beautiful and kind. May she love others as you love them. And may she love you with all her mind and all her heart and all her strength.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

I could not pray this through without choking up at least once. Afterwards, as I thought about what I had prayed, I realized that I had prayed a form of the Shema. I guess that is a fitting thing.

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