Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mae West was right

When Andrew and I stayed at my sister Sarah's house in St. Paul, Minnesota, last October, I saw a great quotation she posted on the wall of her main bathroom: "When in doubt, take a bath" --Mae West.

How wise!

Tomorrow, Sunday, January 10, the parish community of St. Paul's will recognize and celebrate God's creation of three new Christians in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. One of the three is my goddaughter, Jubilee. Alleluia!

An event like this gets me thinking and reflecting on water--that fundamental, monumental substance that makes all life possible. Tomorrow, little Jubilee (and her two friends) will be immersed in water, and when they come out of their watery bath, they will be marked by the cross of Christ.

To quote the eponymous founder of my former (Lutheran) communion, "What does this mean?"

I think it means that we meet God in water. All the water that surrounds us: the water of the oceans, the rushing rivers, the crystal mountain lakes... but also the water that fills my bath, the water that nourishes all who thirst, and the water that washes your homeless neighbor so she can look presentable for a job interview. God as Water.

But there's a dark side to all of this: water nourishes, but it also drowns. Water washes, but it also floods. To submit to Christian baptism is to say "Yes" to a life that leads to self-giving death. Just look at the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer:

--Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

--Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

--Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

--Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

--Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These are tough questions. Jubilee can't answer them just yet, but she is fortunate enough to have parents (and a godparent, and a parish community) who will answer them on her behalf, and promise to bring her up in this matrix of faith, love, and service. But she would be right to rebel against this covenant from time to time. It's not neutral. Being baptized is a daunting thing. I'm planning on telling her--in about fifteen or sixteen years--that her reluctance and ambivalence makes a lot of sense!

Meanwhile, I want to sing a song of the watery Trinity, a poem that imagines the Trinity not as Father, Son, and Spirit, but as Sea, River, and Rain. And I will hold my little goddaughter--and my goddaughter Audrey, and my godson William--in prayer, asking God for the waters of justice and righteousness to fall down upon them all. (And after church tomorrow, I think I'll take a bath!)

Here's the trinitarian poem:

O Sea, Mystic Source
by Susan Palo Cherwien

O Sea, mystic Source,
relentless and fathomless,
all streams run to you.

O River, fair Spring,
O earth-bounded wanderer,
you seek the low place.

O Rain, soaring Mist,
osmotic and life-giving,
your form, the vessel's.

O Water, O Life,
O Fountain and Origin,
have mercy on us.