Baptism in the traditional sense is a public acknowledgement of one’s faith. It’s a commitment to both church and living a life guided by God.
That happened for me today.
For those of you who know me well, you probably knew that I grew up in a Christian church. My non denominational religious upbringing was filled with fire and brimstone and conservatism.
I never chose to get baptized growing up because, true to to my nature, I always had questions.
“Why aren’t dinosaurs in the Bible?”
“If you ask God into your heart on Sunday, does he leave during the week? Do you have to ask him again?”
“If we’re the ones who are going to heaven, where does everyone else go that believes differently than us?”
The answers — those I got — never made much sense. My spiritual quest continued in my life, but I never imagined it would lead me to today.
I had tried church over the years. The search took me to Universal Unitarians in Tallahassee, which was surprisingly too secular for my evangelical upbringing.
Next, in Tampa, was the Young Adults Sunday School with the United Methodists. I found that I loved the conversation, but was not ready to be in a public praise and worship setting.
In St. Louis, I went back to my parents’ home church. I liked the breezy, feel-good messages, but the megachurch vibe always left me feeling disconnected. I also never got over how people in their fancy cars could be so ruthless in the parking lot after service.
After all of those experiences, I’d given up on the idea of a church sanctuary feeling like a peaceful refuge.
Until I stepped into St. John’s the Sunday after Trump was elected.
Not too long after that, I had a conversation with Pastor Starsky after service one Sunday. I told him I had all these questions about how the world worked.
“That is one of your gifts,” he told me.
It was the first time I learned of a loving kind of God that creates us as unique beings, who makes us a certain way for a certain purpose.
The best way I can publicly proclaim my faith is by telling you about the day I decided to join my church. It was the day I really started listening to when my questions get answered in that divine kind of way. Why I certainly don’t know the answers of what’s to come, I am certain I am on the path.
2017 started on a Sunday.
As I sat in the pews of church in late December, I promised myself I would make it to part of the New Year’s Day services. I didn’t commit to 9 a.m. Sunday School because I had convinced myself I was not the kind of person who goes to bed early on New Year’s Eve so they can get up for church.
I decided to spend the day of New Year’s Eve doing me: Reflecting on 2016 and creating a vision board for 2017. In my NYE reflection, I worked to a playlist of two artists who died that year: David Bowie and Prince. They each reveled in their own uniqueness, creating magic in their art. I loved them for it.
At the last minute, I decided to go out to a party. But I was not going to stay super late or get super crazy — because, you know, I had some kind of plan to get to some part of church in the morning, as crazy as that sounded to me. New year, new ritual, new life — as resolutions go.
I made it to bed at 2 a.m.
I found myself wide awake at 7 a.m. Now, I had no excuse to not go to church. I dawdled a little that morning — and, of course, made it out the door late to Sunday School.
I had turned on the radio, feeling somewhat guilty for listening to secular music on the way in. I was thinking about all the times as a kid sitting with my parents in the car on the drive to church with praise and worship music playing in the background. It got my folks in the right mind for service, I suppose.
Prince came on the radio.
Wherever you are, think of your dreams
Oh please, remember life ain’t always what it seems
For each rainy day (rainy day)
That comes your way
The sun will come shining and you’ll be okay
Keep on smiling, every girl and boy
Remember when you were children you had toys
Wherever you are, think of your dreams
Remember that dreams become the life you lead
As I listened to the lyrics of “Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do,” the cleanest Prince song that I had never heard before, I laughed at myself as I started to tear up.
In the past months, it had become evident that my emotional constipation lifted at church, despite the fact I had buried my feelings everywhere else in my life. I sobbed during every service. And here I was, in my car, not even anywhere close to the building, crying.
Then, the next song came on the radio. It was “Changes” by David Bowie.
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same…
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
Bowie gets me to the church building. I’m 15 minutes late for Sunday School. I’m still smiling in disbelief — wondering if God took over my XM satellite radio that morning.
I hurriedly walked in and sat down in the pew for Sunday School.
Today’s topic of discussion: Music.
“How do we see God in music?” “How is music a reflection of his work?”
If this were a TV show, I would have turned to the camera with a blank stare and said, “Really, y’all?”
And here is where I feel that magic serendipity that strikes me when I get out of my head and listen to the felt yet unseen. Are these the moments that people feel the hand of God? Is this what this is?
I came that morning because I wanted to start the new year off with a renewed commitment to myself. A commitment to explore a spiritual side that I had been unable to ever completely run away from.
That day, Pastor Wilson’s sermon focused on the African concept of Sankofa: “Go back and get it.”
The sankofa symbolizes the quest of critical examination and patient investigation.
Pastor reminded us to go back and get ourselves. You are a divine being made in the image of God. Go back and find that sacred space that is you. Treat your mind, body and soul as sacred when you walk on this earth. Define your values and make them sacred.
This what the New Year’s Resolution reaffirmed: Be of this world but not in it. Set your sights on living in the world with a higher purpose.
After the service, a soloist came up to sing just before the benediction.
As she sang, “It Is Well With My Soul,” my eyes started to tear up. When my brother died in 1997, it was the one hymnal my mom insisted on having played at his funeral. I always think of him when I hear it.
Thoughts of him washed over me as I realized that 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of Marcus’ death. Within seconds, Rev. Anthony asked us to think of someone we had lost.
I just smiled.
For that day, my questions had been answered. It couldn’t have been any more clear: I was right where I was supposed to be.
That’s part of what baptism is all about. It’s a public declaration of the washing away of the old self and the birth of a new self. It’s a celebration and a reminder of the commitment we’ve made to walk into a new life differently and imperfectly. And yet, brimming with the divine love to fulfill our purpose on this planet.