Molly's Baptism Story - Sorry, it's L-O-N-G! - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 1 Old 06-23-2004, 12:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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A while ago, I came here asking if anybody had any good resources for baptism rituals and I got some great input! www.ritualwell.org was fantastic help! We recently joined an ONA (open & affirming) christian church and love it! It's very liberal, diversified, gentle, kind, loving, positive and ecologically minded. Just what we were searching for! So, we decided to baptize our daughter here and they were totally open to us customizing the ceremony to make it meaningful and appropriate for us. It was beautiful! I had a hard time not breaking down into tears. I managed to speak my part and participate fully in this ceremony with a full and open heart and it felt good and right.

Somebody (I'm sorry, I don't remember who) asked me to post what we actually did for her baptism, so to anyone who may be interested here it is. Thanks for letting me share & encouraging me to find ways to make this ceremony our own. Thank you so much!

Here's how it went:
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Words for the Baptism of Molly Margaret

May we begin with a few words from scripture: Consider the incredible love that God has shown us in calling us children of God. That is not just what we are called but what we are. Dear friends of mine, do you realize this? We are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future, but we know that we participate in God’s spirit. We see real love not in that we love God, but that God loves us and in Jesus gives us a window to see into the heart of God.

Friends, we celebrate today the miraculous gift of life. Here we celebrate the wonder of birth, the joy of love, and the graciousnesss of God. We celebrate the birth of a child—so natural and yet so miraculous—standing in awe of the amazing complexity of bone and tissue, mind and muscle, body and spirit. We celebrate the love of parents that brings a life to birth, nurtures a child through years of growth, but also stands aside in order for that person to grow and become her own person. For finally children do not belong to their parents, but to God.

We celebrate that Joe and Beth have brought Molly here to be baptized, wanting her to be part of the worldwide community of faith and this particular community of faith.

As they come, they bring with them words that they would like to read, expressions of hope and of prayer:

Beth Reads: Grow our daughter, O Lord, to be strong enough to know when she is weak and brave enough to face herself when she is afraid; may she become one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, but humble and gentle in victory. Send her, we pray, not only into the path of ease and comfort but also into the spur of difficulty and challenge. Here let her learn to stand up in the storm; here let her learn compassion for those who fall. Grant her the insight to know herself and the wisdom to know you. Be with us, her parents, as we begin this new journey through life.

Joe Reads: Grow within our daughter, O Lord, a heart that will be clear, whose goals will be high; a daughter who will master herself before she seeks to master others; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past. After all these things are hers, this we pray, give her enough sense of humor that she may always be serious but never take herself seriously. Give her humility so that she may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength; then we, her parents, will dare to whisper, "We, too, have been enriched."

Beth & Joe Read Together: Welcome, welcome to this breathtaking world. We have been waiting for you. Waiting to see your beautiful face, to hear the sound of your cry, to kiss you, hold you, rock you. You are the fruit of our heart and our souls. We have longed for your arrival, and now it is here. But no amount of anticipation could have prepared us for you. You are a miracle. You are a gift from God. You are ours. May God watch over you in love and bless you with health. How can we express our gratitude to You, God? You have sent us a perfect blessing. Thank You, bless You, Source of all life. Amen.

Pastor Asked Questions:

Do you bring your daughter here, wishing her to be part of this Christian community and recognizing in her face, the face of God, in her spirit, the spirit of God, in her life, the life of God?

Will you endeavor to live out your lives before your child in such a way that life itself is good news to her?

Will you endeavor to keep her within this growing, learning community of the church until she shall choose for herself whether she wishes to be a member of the Christian community?

The Baptism

Congregational Welcome:

We, the people of Sojourners, joyously receive Molly into this community of faith and into the community of the Christian Church of every time and place. We promise to aid in her growth and to endeavor to grow with her. We promise to surround her with loving care and with prayer. We promise to encourage her by thoughtful words and helpful example. To the best of our ability we promise to be, with her, people who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Congregation comes forward in a close circle for a laying on of hands and a final prayer.

Pastor's Sermon:

BAPTISM IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS that always seems to trigger a bunch of thoughts in me. It's probably because I have a tendency to think too hard about some things, rather than just letting them be and appreciating them, but not spending too much time examining them very closely.

We could, for instance, just be glad for the baptism that has taken place this morning. It is not a unique event. Well, it's unique for Molly, and for Joe and Beth. They have not done this before. Molly has not lived before…well, unless you believe in reincarnation, but let's not go there this morning. Anyway although baptism is not exactly a routine thing for the people involved, and although it celebrates the unique gift of this child's life, at one level it is not a terribly complicated thing. It is what people do, what people have done for a very long time, when they want a child to have a family of faith. We could, and perhaps should, just be glad, really glad, but just glad that Molly and Beth and Joe are here, glad that they have chosen this family of faith.

But of course I can't let it be that simple. Part of it, I'm sure is me, in my genes in some way. Part of it is because of my job. As I visit with parents, put together the bulletin, consider the words that will be said, in this case including some provided by the parents, I find that I can't help but ask questions, no matter how many baptisms I have been involved with before. What are we doing here? What is baptism all about? What is it not all about (for example the washing away of the original sin of a child)? So I always and inevitably enter a reflective mode at the time of baptism—not just at the time of the actual baptism but the days surrounding it. Some thoughts I manage to keep to myself, which is a good thing. Others I can't keep to myself.

Which is why I now find myself asking out loud: What have we done here? ...There is a part of me that asks that question, but with an entirely different voice, as in: Oh, my God, what have we done here? We have brought this poor unsuspecting child into the Christian circle. I don't mean in any way to imply that we shouldn't have done this, but it does give me pause. When Beth joined the church a few weeks ago, I didn't worry about it. She's an adult. She's seen and experienced some not very attractive forms of Christianity. She sees and experiences something at Sojourners that leads her to give Christianity and this church stuff another try. Halleluia! Praise God! And all the rest. She's hung around Sojourners for a bit. She knew what she was getting into…well, OK, she didn't know exactly what she was getting into since the journey of faith is always unpredictable and you never know what people at Sojourners may decide to do or where the promptings of the spirit may lead. So I was thinking about faith as an adventure when Beth joined the church. But not too hard. More in the grateful mode.

And of course we're in the grateful mode today too. It's just that Molly really doesn't know what she's gotten herself into, or rather what we've gotten her into. With some words and some water she has been connected to the whole Christian community, and as noted before, there are some parts of that community that are pretty unattractive. As we all know, some pretty awful things have been done in the name of Christ. Most of us have seen examples of that close up somewhere along the line. And yes, Molly has been brought into a community that includes that reality, the reality that all of us have to deal with who have chosen to call ourselves Christian.

But that's not all--not at all. The Book of Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and baptism makes me think of that cloud, not just the cloud that is us, that closed in around Molly this morning, but the cloud of ancestors and people in other places and cultures. Baptism is a sacrament not because it is a kind of formal ceremony of membership into the church, but because of the almost mystical relationship it refers to, not only with God, but with other people who have struggled with their faith, who have received enormous strength from their faith, who have done courageous things because of their faith, who have been inspired by their faith to resist oppression, act in completely selfless ways, to change the direction of their lives. Perhaps Molly, I pray Molly, like so many others and maybe because of those others, will find comfort and strength from the faith she is just beginning to grow into. I pray she will be inspired to speak and act in courageous, selfless, loving ways, as so many others have. Perhaps she will even become one who inspires others.

So what have we done? We have brought Molly into what we can only hope will be an uneasy but rich relationship to the Christian church and its people, the same relationship we can only hope for each of us. She will, I hope, benefit abundantly from the relationships she has entered into today. She will struggle, I hope, with some parts of the Christian church. She will oppose, I hope, those parts of the church that are unjust or unloving. She will, I hope, make us better.

And in all that hoping, I am reminded that our journeys of faith are not meant to be made alone. If they were we wouldn't need communities of faith. We are meant to seek ways lovingly to foster the spirit in one another, not only to respect doubts but to nurture belief, to help each other find the yes's in our lives, to discover and cherish and hold on to those things in our lives that move us to tears and rejoicing, to discover what it is not that we might do but that we must do, to discover not so much something that we might have, like an opinion, but that we are possessed by, to discover that something of God that is already in us.

As respectful as we may be, or hope to be, or try to be of one another's space and difference, we do have commitments to each other. We do not intend to make our various journeys of faith in isolation from one another. We do not need to travel by ourselves. And this is not just a matter of sitting next to one another in worship, or in a meeting, but that we will do our best to break through the dividing walls, as scripture says, not only as people of color and white people, or as gay people and straight people, things we also try to do, but that we will try to let the walls between us as individuals come tumbling down, so that you become part of my search for God and I become part of yours.

Baptism does cause me to reflect not just on what's in store for Molly but on the nature of the community of faith, this community of faith. What have we done? We have made promises to her, and if we didn't say them out loud or put them into words, they were still there, and still made. Will we be good enough, strong enough, loving enough, honest enough to hold up our part of the bargain? Will

we speak of God to her, will we not fail to do that, but will we do it in a way that is not casual or glib? Will we be open in expressing our doubts and questions to her, but equally open, and eager and willing, to speak of what we do believe. Will we represent the church well to her? Those are all sort of heavy questions in my mind. We could baptize with the attitude of “Hey, Molly, glad you're here” and just not attach too much pondering to the whole process, and that's fine, it's just that I can't do it. For me baptism raises all these questions about the nature of our community, and how much we're a community, and the promises that are implicit in our life together, and how we're doing at keeping those promises, and whether they aren't more than we can deliver. Molly's baptism, all baptisms, cause me to reflect on the ways in which we are, and are not, community to each other.

It also causes me to reflect on the ways that we are not in community, cannot be in community, will never be in community. It causes me to reflect on that core of separateness that is beyond the reach of any other human being, even the ones we love most dearly, that can be touched only by God. Like so many things in Christianity baptism has a paradoxical character, expressing two apparently opposite things at the same time. It says we belong in community, are meant for community, need to take that very seriously. It also is a strong symbolic reminder that there are parts of us destined for loneliness.

The conventional wisdom about baptism is that it is an expression of the love of God, but that needs to be unpacked. And that phrase says bunches of things to me. It says that a child's, a person's life does not need to proved or somehow made to be worthwhile, that the worth, the preciousness, the sacredness is innate; it is given; it is intrinsic to our being. We live in a society, I'm afraid, that wants to quantify everything, that likes to define people according to the functions they perform and the usefulness or productivity they can demonstrate. We live in a society that often does not see beyond the measurable parts of ourselves. We live in a society where people are often looked at according to the kind of thing that might appear on their resumes.

Baptism gently but firmly stands against all that. It stands against the idea that we are intelligent because someone gives us an A. We are helpful because someone says thank you. We are useful because someone pays us a lot of money. We are important because our name appears in the paper, or on a letterhead. We are worthwhile because of some tangible accomplishments or contributions. Perhaps all this is inevitable. Perhaps it is just the way the world will always be, and the way we will always be—to look for that kind of affirmation.

But that's why the act of baptism is so important. Precisely the point, or a point, of baptism is that God does not first take the measure of us and then decide whether or to what degree our lives are worthwhile. Part of what baptism says is that we are loved before we are able to love, that we are given much before we are able to give, that our lives are deemed not just worthwhile, but holy, before we have any opportunity to prove it.

Baptism is a sacrament of belonging…and unbelonging. Unbelonging because we are always more than what others determine us to be. Unbelonging because the measure of the person cannot be taken by any tools the world has to offer. Unbelonging because we do not belong to other people. Unbelonging because there are places inside us that only God can touch, and that don't fit anywhere in this world.

The love of God. The touch of holiness on our lives that does not come from others or from anything worldly. The love of God. If we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that sometimes the love of God can be elusive. Even the most fervent believers may not always have a clear sense of what the love of God is all about. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that none of us get by just on the love of God. We need the human kind too, very much. The love of God is no substitute for that.

As humans we do not get by on the love of God alone, not many of us do. But there are also times when nothing but the love of God will do, when we will need to know from somewhere very deep down inside of us that this life, my life, your life, Molly's life, is sacred. The sacrament of baptism says that belief, that sense of God's love, is offered to us as a gift. I pray that we may all know that love of God, offered to us as a gift, and that that love will sustain us and see us through. Amen.

Well, if you've made it this far, I hope you were encouraged by this somehow! Here's a link to her photo album - a few baptism pictures are at the very end of the Photo Gallery
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