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Monday, January 13, 2014

Baptism, then and now

My tiny James Benedict was baptized on January 12, 2014. 

Since the rite of baptism includes the renewal of my own baptismal vows, I spent some time in the days leading up to James' reflecting on my that time in my life, nearly 15 years ago.  

My baptism at the comparatively tender age of 11 1/2 was a reflection of the kind of faith that I had as a child. In conversation surrounding the baptisms of older cousins, I was introduced to the idea that there are things that we could do to mark our relationship with God. This was a concept that I embraced with eagerness. Then, as now, I craved actions that mean something, and the active and visible elements of the conservative, separatist faith in which I was brought up became sacraments to me, although it would be years before I knew the word, and longer before I understood that it was what I needed.      

I was a comparatively young child to be seeking baptism in the Mennonite tradition. The normal age at our particular church was 12-14 years old, and I was nine when I first approached my parents about the possibility. Concerned about my possible immaturity and lack of understanding, they held me off for a year, but the spring that I was 10, nearly 11, I joined the instruction class for baptism. Along with a best friend who - at a little over a year older than me - was also unusually young, and nine other teenagers, I sat through months of Sunday morning classes that touched on Anabaptist history and theology, as well as more general spiritual formation. In the late summer of the year, we were baptized as part of a Sunday morning service.  

There is a feeling of radiance associated with the day in my memory. Although baptism had always and repeatedly been taught to me as a simple, though momentous, symbol of my commitment to follow Jesus, I felt vaguely even then that I somehow needed the symbol to make the commitment happen. From my current vantage point, the vagueness evaporates -  a sacrament, after all, is a sign that effects that which it signifies. And, although I didn't quite know it at the time, a sacrament is what I sought, and by the grace of God, it is what I found. In the tumult of ensuing adolescence and young adulthood, my relationship with God has shown a tenacity that I attribute to the real grace of baptism, as opposed to my own notoriously weak willpower.

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