Thought I’d share something I wrote several years ago about my baptism…
“That little man is not going to be able to lift my fat body out of the water,” Grandma said.
She stood in front of me, both of us dressed in billowy white robes with only our underwear beneath, which, I suppose, could make you feel either exposed or rebellious, depending on your nature, especially when you are standing at the front of the church waiting to be baptized. My head had been sprinkled by the Lutheran pastor when I was a baby, and my grandmother had also been “sprinkled” after she married my grandfather. But she insisted that wasn’t really being baptized.
“My mother was baptized in the Mississippi River,” she had said many times, always adding the all important “wearing her blue dress with the white polka dots.”
Immersion was the way to be baptized, according to her, and I had come to a time in my life when I felt led to do the same. So we had decided to be baptized together. To me it was a blessing to share this spiritually defining moment with her.
“He better not let me drown,” she said.
So there we stood at the top of the six steps, three above water and three below, that led down into the small pool behind the pulpit, she worrying about dying while being reborn, and I wondering if my flowered underpants would show through the soaked robe. I closed my eyes for a moment. This was one of the most important times in my life, and I needed to be prayerful and to savor the quiet joy rising in my heart. Would I feel different when I came up out of the water? Somehow I would be different.
Our family sat in the front row of the otherwise empty non-denominational church. Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Full Gospel all represented; and a couple of little kids who just loved Jesus.
“I love you, Grandma,” I said to the black and gray curls at the back of her head, “and I’d never let you die at the hands of a minister.”
“I love you,” she answered, as Pastor Earl, wearing a white robe over fishing waders, held his hand up to her.
She descended cautiously (having suffered lately from dizzy spells) and walked into the water, which on her short frame came up under her breasts. She turned to face me, her expression one of contentment, like right after eating a good piece of homemade pie, and held the cloth up over her mouth and nose. The pastor put his left hand behind her back, and his right over the cupped hands covering her mouth.
“Adelyn Wacker,” he pronounced, then dipping her backwards as in some romantic dance, spewed, “Ibaptizeyouinthenameofthefatherandofthesonandoftheholyspiritamen.”
Up she rose in a rush of water. She looked exactly the same, just wetter. No glowing face, no shimmering aura. Just dripping wet and smiling.
Our family clapped, and the little kids “yea-ed.”
I grasped her hand as she climbed the stairs, the robe plastered to her round body. She took my place as I took hers, wishing the warm water enveloping my feet…shins…legs…waist…was the murky water of the Mississippi. But the water didn’t matter; neither did the church, the pastor, the flowers surrounding the stage, the denomination, the translation of the Bible that had been read beforehand. What mattered was that the three of us—Grandma and I and God—were together in a way that changed something that couldn’t be seen from the outside, and maybe not even felt on the inside.
It only feels like water. Not fire or flying or birth. An ordinary man dunks an ordinary woman beneath ordinary water, but somehow she comes out changed in some deep and mysterious way that doesn’t make itself known with thunder or angels’ voices. It was not until Grandma and I were back in the dressing room that the Holy Spirit decided to visit us in a way that he wouldn’t have come down upon any others.
I began to shiver beneath the wet robe, as Grandma sat on the bench and pulled her robe up over her body. She was in her underwear, and I noticed that her keys weren’t in their usual spot for safekeeping—her left bra cup.
“Mandy.” Her voice sounded muffled, and I turned from gathering my dry cloths to see that her arms were still over her head and trapped inside the soaked robe. “I’m stuck.”
I grabbed hold of the robe and tugged gently. It didn’t budge. I looked down inside at her beaming face and laughed.
It was then the joy came spilling over us like water and out of us like “tongues.” We laughed loudly and uncontrollably. (The pastor said later he had never heard such a noise coming from behind the baptistery.) But finally she was free of the robe that had become like a second skin. And I realize now that is how we change. We shed some outer layer that leaves us bare and pure. Hopefully we never put it on again; never try to cover ourselves before God or fit in with those offended by the rawness of our joy.
So Grandma and I were baptized with water and the Spirit that day…but even better, with the laughter of God.