Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Take me to the river....

So what is the Big Dunk, you ask?

It was my baptism. And it really was a big dunk. My UU (Unitarian Universalist) minister walked into a spring-fed pond with me 2 years ago and dunked me in backwards. It was the day that changed my life.

Steve, my dear minister, had never done a baptism before. He was new to the ministry game in general, since ours was his first church. So I am quite sure he had no idea what to make of my request when I first asked him to baptize me. In fact, I now know that his first concern was to wonder whether he would get in trouble with the governing board of our church. (New minister goes off into the woods with a female congregant to do what?!?!)

But we talked about it for several months. And I think he realized that I wasn't kidding around. So in the end, he agreed. Even to do it in a pond.

As Steve had never done a baptism, we prepared by doing a variation of his premarital counciling. Over the course of 6 months or so, we met regularly to discuss the 'wedding'. I had journal and homework assignments to do between times. I had to write vows. I had to reflect on what to do when I got mad at the in-laws. I had to decide who the in-laws even were. (Everyone else in the world...)

On the days I was to meet with Steve, I would usually get really nervous and scared. The whole process was so vulnerable for me. I was especially scared when I had to share drafts of my vows. It has always been slightly scary for me to talk about my feelings about God... but for some reason, I felt even more exposed during this process. Once, I was so freaked out I just sat in the car in the parking lot behind the church and couldn't get out. Finally, I had this funny sense of Jesus sitting next to me. "Don't be scared, don't be scared." He said. I relaxed a little. In my head, I asked why he always appeared in robes. Instantly, I had the image of a clean shaven guy in a business suit. I actually laughed out loud. "Go back to the robes, they suit you better." I thought...

The night before the baptism, I randomly opened the bible and sure enough, landed on Jesus' baptism by John. (Matthew 3:16-17)

The day at the pond was an extraordinary clear and crisp September day. My mom and husband came with us for the baptism. They stood on the beach while Steve and I walked into the water. It felt so warm and inviting. When we got about waist high, I read my vows and Steve lowered me, backwards, into the water. I felt like I could just float there forever. In fact, when Steve brought me up too soon, I went back down for a few more moments of this bliss.

What is so ridiculous is that I never even considered that the baptism would make me a Christian. I truly never even thought about it. At the pond, Jesus' name was never mentioned. I read the prayer of St. Francis, and some Merton. I said my vows to God. But as a Unitarian, I suppose the idea of a separate Jesus never even occured to me. It wasn't until days later that it became clear that Jesus was part of the deal. I had a sense that He would never leave me alone until I finally surrendered to him. I had given my life to God and I understood that God was asking me to make Jesus the center of that life. I was mildly horrified... afraid of what my atheist parents would say... afraid of other christians. But the pull towards Jesus was inexorable. When fear overtook me, his message was so clear and distinct. 'Follow me. Don't be afraid. Follow me."

Before I got baptized, I was plagued with all kinds of theological questions. I didn't understand the Trinity. I didn't believe in original sin. I certainly didn't buy the concept of Jesus as a Savior.

Strangely, after the baptism, all those issues just resolved themselves. I suddenly seemed to understand all of it. Later, I read a book that described 'baptism by the Spirit' and recognized the signs. I believe that is what happened to me in the pond that day. What else could explain a lifelong Unitarian suddenly becoming a Trinitarian? A Jesus freak? A born again, washed in the blood of the lamb, Christian? It's either Holy Spirit or some kind of psychotic episode.

"Don't be afraid. Follow me."

And it has led me to the greatest joy of my life. A peace that I have never known before. A lightness of being. A deep sense of gratitude. Love. And loss, sometimes, too. The narrow path ain't for sissies, that is for sure. Leaving my Unitarian Universalist congregation, and Steve, who baptized me, has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But in the end, I am grateful to be on the road with Jesus.

Thank you, Jesus.


Songbird said...

What a beautiful telling of a wonder-filled story, Rachel. Thank you.

Mary Beth said...

O most wonderful! This is fantastic. I'm going to bookmark it to read over again.

Bad Alice said...

What a wonderful story; what a mysterious and powerful event.

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

Shucks, you guys! Thanks! Ain't the Holy Spirit grand?

Mother Laura said...

I can't believe I missed this till now Rachel! Heaven knows I gobbled up the Reconciliation perma post but then that's our joyous shared passion :-).

What a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing it, my sister in Christ.