A couple of months ago, I was reading “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” by Kurt Vonnegut, and in it, the (secular) protagonist performs a baptism for twins in his hometown, and his wife is appalled. “What did you say?” she demands, knowing that he hasn’t a religious bone in his body. And Eliot Rosewater replies:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
And when I find myself holding a baby for baptism, I find myself wanting to say the same thing. Though our church typically baptizes infants, this weekend we had 16 non-infant baptisms, and it got me thinking about what this ritual is about.
Many of us heard the story of Jesus’ baptism this Sunday in church. It’s a beautiful story about the start of Jesus’ public life, and ends with some gorgeous words that we claim not only for Jesus, but for ourselves also, “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I got to speak to my congregation about how baptism is a remembrance of who we are and the community we belong to and a reminder of the wholeness and beauty that resides within our natures. Pretty easy message to give.
Because, really, how different are these stories? In each, we see welcome. We see acceptance. We see blessing. And, in our modern rituals of baptism, we not only make promises, but we give charge to the newly baptized to be a part of making good in the world – being kind!
The second most common phrase in the Bible, (only behind ‘Do not be afraid’) is Remember. It doesn’t surprise me that this is something we need to hear again and again. If only we could remember to remember! Remember that we do not need to be afraid, remember that God is with us, remember that we are loved and so is everybody else, remember that we belong to one another.
It’s no coincidence that yoga philosophy holds this value as well. One of the primary colorings of the mind, a way that we taint our experience with suffering, is by avidya – forgetting, not seeing clearly, losing touch with the spiritual reality.
Our experiences become polluted with suffering when we forget our Pure Consciousness, our place in the ocean of Oneness. It is by remembering this unity that we can avoid the confusion and suffering caused by our forgetting.
Isn’t baptism this kind of reminder – a reminder with water? That we too are drops in this great ocean, that we belong to one another and this planet that is our home, that God speaks of us with tenderness and love and pride, that kindness is the best and only way to reach out to others.