I have been baptized four times in my life.
The first time was in the Catholic Church. I was under a year old and I don’t remember much about it. I’ve seen the white gown I wore and a handful of pictures of my dad with incredible sideburns and a brown corduroy sport coat. But I don’t remember the water or if there was music or what it was that my godparents promised to do.
But I was baptized.
That was the first time.
* * *
I am writing from Uvita, Costa Rica.
As I sat on the plane yesterday I ended up in the fortunate situation of an empty middle seat between me and my row-mate. He was a very nice guy, on the way to visit his mom. Turns out, he was raised in Costa Rica.
“So where are you going?” he asked me, innocently enough.
I thought about it, and realized I had not a blessed idea where I was going.
“I don’t know,” I finally admitted.
“How do you not know?” He looked straight-up shocked. I’ll admit, I was too. I’m a bit of a free spirit, but I generally know my destination before I get onto the aircraft. Definitely before I’ve broken out a book and my tea.
“I’m meeting two friends. They just told me what airport to go to.”
The truth is, the last few weeks have been rough. The new year didn’t pan out the way I had hoped, so I've banking on the Chinese New Year to herald in some new energy and really mark the turn that I’ve been looking for. The Chinese New Year began yesterday. (It’s the year of the fire rooster if you’re curious). So I guess in all the jumble of the disappointing new year, I forgot to figure out exactly where I was headed.
* * *
The second time wasn’t technically a baptism, but when I converted to Judaism I went to the mikvah. The mikvah is a ceremonial bath used for ritual immersion in the Jewish faith.
I went with my sister-in-law just a handful of hours before my conversion ceremony. We said the prayers and I dipped below the water line three times.
Just a few hours later, I was a Jew.
* * *
We emerged from the hiking trail onto the beach and as fast as we could fling off our flip flops and our cover ups we were running squealing into the water. If I didn’t know of the tattoos and the scars and the heartbreak and the joy that bound us to each other, I would have assumed we were a gaggle of twelve-year-old girls overtaking a roller rink.
As I came up for air and looked at the women around me, the tears came. Some of these women were brand new to me, but two of them had walked directly into the fire of my life when so many had walked out. They were my daily bread.
Day after day after day.
And now we were floating in the salt-thick water of the Southern Hemisphere.
I still can't believe I am alive. Here. Experiencing this.
* * *
My third baptism took place two years ago. It had never occurred to me that I had the choice to be baptized – and had determined it wasn’t actually necessary in order to sidestep back into Christianity after my turn at the mikvah. But when my pastor talked about the importance of making the decision as an adult – even for those of us for whom the decision had been made for as infants – it resonated with me so deeply that I knew it was the next right step in my faith journey. Just 10 months before, God had stopped me in my tracks, sat me down hard, and opened my eyes to what it was He was asking from me. So it seemed logical that I should accept His call formally. And baptism seemed the way to do it.
That’s how I found myself being sunk into a bathtub of water on the stage of one of Richmond’s historic theaters one January morning.
* * *
“What exactly did you think would happen, my child?” After weeks of silence, or at least a much lower volume that I would generally prefer, God spoke up as I was lagging behind the others on the shore today. “Did you think I’d give you remission and suddenly it would just get easy?”
“Frankly, yes,” I muttered. Like all fathers and daughters, God and I go through obstinate child / exasperated parent phases.
“That’s not how it works. You know that.”
I’ve been impatient lately. (That’s a theme around here, isn’t it?) I want all the other promises and I want them now, or if there is to be further detour I would like a map with detailed instructions as to which exit I’m to take and where, exactly, the next rest stop lies. But God doesn’t deal in maps – something I well know. He deals in faith and blind leaps and the willingness to go wherever we’re called, even when its scary and the tail light is out and there seems to be a shortage of brake fluid.
We continued this way for several minutes, God reminding me that He has a plan and me grumbling about the fact that He is moving at the speed of molasses.
“Patience, my child,” He whispered as I darted back into the ocean waves.
* * *
Just before leaving Richmond, I cut the final chords that were tying me to the church that has been mine for some time now. I had been holding on by a thread, hoping that maybe somewhere my heart could find a way to reconcile our irreconcilable differences concerning one particular issue, and I finally admitted to myself that neither one of us was going to be bending anytime soon.
This left me in the tricky position of being officially churchless – something I haven’t been in quite some time.
For all of my introverted, shy tendencies, I thrive in community. Particularly when it comes to faith, I need people to share it with. People to mull it over and live it out with.
But I know that, just as God stripped away so many of the safety nets I had assumed I would have when I got sick, He is stripping away yet another safety net. Because the truth is that a piece of me always thought I needed a community – needed a church – to connect with God, to draw near to Him. And I know that is no longer the case. He and I, we’re together whether we’re in a church or flying over oceans to a remote beach.
He isn’t found in temples made by human hands, after all. It says so right there in the Bible.
* * *
As high tide rolled in, the waves steadily washed over me, healing my heart and my spirit and my body with each passing over my skin. The sun was falling toward the horizon as I slowly stripped down and submerged myself further than I had earlier – the warm water cleansing me of my impatience, of my frustration, of my demands that we rush things along. I let the water baptize me and draw me back into His waiting arms, where I heard Him whisper “welcome back, my child.”
That was the fourth time.