Baptism holds powerful symbolic meanings within the Christian church. It cleanses sin and sickness; recognizes entrance into the church community; provides a type of rebirth; and offers hope for a new and restored world.
But we forget baptism is also a “a non-Christian . . . act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named.” See, baptism and baptizing were going on long before the advent of Christianity. Early pagans used water purification rituals. Jews practiced mikva’ot (mikvehs) or ritual immersion for spiritual purity before worship. And every period of Greek literature references “baptizo,” which applied to experiences ranging from the day-to-day to the sublime.
Please don’t misunderstand me: baptism is a beautiful rite of passage within the Christian tradition and I have great respect for it in that context. But I also love the idea that we have many baptisms throughout and across the diverse areas of our lives.
Sometimes an act or ordeal baptizes us without our consent. We are made new and the world is opened, regardless of whether we wanted this newness or not. Other times we feel some quiet, intangible discomfort signaling the time for a shift in the way we are in the world. And still other times we crave a big, radical rebirth. No matter how we come to it, there are times we are invited or required to begin again.
Early baptismal rites involved sacraments for each of the senses. The eyes and ears were anointed to symbolize that the baptized could see and hear the world differently than before baptism. When the familiar or the extraordinary baptizes us, we have space to open our senses. It is in this space that we can audition fresh ways of being our selves, being with others, and living our best, authentic, custom-made lives.
References & Resources
- Cargill, R. R. (n.d.). Origins of baptism. Retrieved from http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/video-gallery/o/origins-of-baptism.aspx