Baptism: a physical practice with spiritual significance


On Sunday, on my first Mother’s Day, we baptized Siena.

All of her living ancestors were there: her father, her mother, her two grandmothers, her maternal grandfather, and one set of great-grandparents. It was pretty amazing.

We didn’t baptize Siena out of religious obligation. Our church is really generous in this regard: we honor the practice of baptism in any form the individual wishes—baptism by immersion, infant baptism, etc. We do baby dedications and baby baptisms and respect those who choose neither one.

Kylie and I chose to baptize Siena. It was something I couldn’t imagine not doing. If I thought about not baptizing her, my torso became all achy and tight. To listen to my body-wisdom better, I wrote out my thoughts on baptism…

… and realized that baptism is one of the few ways in which the church honors the physical body as a spiritual being. It’s one of the reasons why baptism is so important to me.

Infant baptism is an extension of the Jewish practice of circumcision. It signifies that the child is born into the Covenant God made with the world. Since we’re baptizing and not circumcising, infant baptism signifies that the child is born into the covenant God made with the world through Christ: a covenant of love and grace and freedom.

I was baptized as an infant. Kylie was baptized by immersion as an adult—and I mourn, a little bit, that Siena will not be baptized by immersion like he was. There’s something beautiful about the whole-body dunk. The whole self is under the covenant, as witnessed by the water.

I love water. I love rain, waterfalls, lakes, pools. I love swimming. In high school, I went to Israel with my Bible teacher—Ray VanderLaan—and he took us to En Gedi, an oasis in the desert. En Gedi is most likely one of the refuges—the spring of living water—where David hid from King Saul. While he was teaching, my teacher jumped into the waterfall of the spring and suggested that this was the way we were to experience God: fully immersed in the cascading downpour of God’s love.

DSC_0762I want Siena to know God’s love like that. As a mom, I am going to mess up. There are things I will do and say that will probably hurt her; there are things she will experience that I can’t protect her from. And I want her to know that she doesn’t have to be bound by those things, that God’s love and freedom is always there.

God’s love and freedom is total, complete, and overwhelming—that’s the immersive part. Someday, when/if she chooses her own faith in God, I would love to go with her to a lake or a hot tub and dunk her. To remember her baptism in that way.

God’s love and freedom has always been there for her—that’s why I wanted to baptize her as an infant, before she could remember it. God’s love will have been there for as long as she can remember—and will always be there.

And there’s something beautiful about baptizing her publicly, in the context of our church. One of the ways in which she’s going to know that downpour of love is through our community. Kylie and I have always been surrounded by the Open Door, our church, and because our families are so far away, the people at church are going to be her local family, her adopted siblings and aunts and uncles.

In the Presbyterian tradition of baptism, one of the elders asks the congregation, “Do all of you as members of the church of Jesus Christ promise to guide and nurture Siena by word and deed with love and prayer, encouraging her to know and follow Christ and be a faithful member of his church, Do you?”

The church said “We do” to my daughter. The church promises to help us raise her to know this immersive love of God. Siena and our church needed to have this moment. God’s imperfect representative on earth said to my daughter, “I do.”

And Kylie and I had a moment where we said to both Siena and God, “Look, we promise to raise her to know your love and freedom, and we know we’re going to mess up, but we’ve got help. The raising of this kid is bigger than just us. She belongs to God, and to God we entrust her.”

We had these moments with both words and action: the physical practice of sprinkling ordinary, blessed tap water on my baby’s head. I needed the ceremony to have that spiritual weight of a physical action.

Above all, Kylie and I want Siena to know that she is, always was, and always will be claimed by God as a daughter of light.

I can’t imagine a better way to spend my first Mother’s Day.

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3 thoughts on “Baptism: a physical practice with spiritual significance

  1. Dear Aunt Renne,
    I am Subiq from Kathmandu, Nepal. Mum Jeltje inspired me to see your blog and know more about you and beautiful daughter Siena. I am feeling blessed to know you.
    Hope to hear from you!

  2. Oh I loved reading this and hearing your reasons for baptizing Siena as an infant. It makes beautiful sense. Hugs.

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