Baptismal Waters


 

As I walked into the woods on my Ash Wednesday retreat last week I was dazzled by droplets of water shimmering all around me.  Here I was entering the Lenten desert and everything in creation sang to me of viriditas, or the greening power of God.  Life was exploding forth before me in this damp forest, the air heavy with moisture, the ground springing beneath my feet. 

When I saw the leaf in the bottom photo with its offering of holy water, I remembered my own baptism.  Lent is deeply connected to baptism.  Jesus went out into the desert after he was baptized by his cousin John.  The origin of Lent dates back to the early church when it was a forty day period of preparation for catechumens before their baptism.  In many churches today, Lent culminates with the Triduum and the great celebration of Easter vigil when new members are initiated into the community. 

I have long struggled with my relationship to the institutional church.  It is challenging within the Roman Catholic church as an educated woman who values collaboration and loves all things mystical.  There is so much I could say on this topic, but now is not the right time for me to explore that here yet.  But I have been having dreams lately that have been asking me questions like “where is my place?” and “what am I doing here?” 

I value that my ministry occurs outside of the church structure, on the edges, and draws on people from many denominations. But I struggle to find a faith community where I can lament freely with others, where a relationship to creatures and nature is considered essential, where the wisdom of the body and nighttime dreams can be explored together, where Sabbath rhythms are really honored, where women and men share power in life-giving ways for all, and where the message is of liberation for the entire “kin-dom.”

And yet, somehow there is something in me that still keeps me rooted in the church.  Her long tradition of mystics and poets and prophets gives me strength.  The wisdom of her liturgical seasons and the gathering around bread and wine.  The radical counter-cultural witness of Jesus challenges me to live with a deep awareness of the suffering of others. 

In the waters surrounding me that day in the woods, I was reminded again of my baptismal call.  I was baptized as an infant by parents who did not believe in the church or even God.  For some reason they named me Christine which means lover of Christ.  Somehow, I was called to this tribe by something greater and I feel a connection to it in my veins.  Centuries of both beauty and horror dwell in my marrow, I must claim them all as a part of my tradition and the human condition.  I must wrestle with it and marvel at it.  Life is filled with ambiguities.  Sometimes all we can do is be present to the questions of our lives and listen for how to live into them. 

What are the questions Lent is asking of you?  Do you hear any echoes of your baptism in this holy season?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

(photos taken in the woods near the Hood Canal)

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17 Responses

  1. Christine, I’m praying your days out and about are full of blessings and other good things! This post also stirred much in me. The whole water image is already tremendously strong as I prepare my heart and mind for Immersion. Though I don’t hold a conscious/visual memory of my own infant baptism, the experience of my children’s is very close at hand. As one who’s challenged the status quo of traditional church membership/attendance by claiming two church homes (not to mention the church where I was bnr (born-n-raised), I’ve often wrestled with the “where do I belong” questions. I have no pat answers, I’m still wrestling…as I explore, a part of me seems to be leaving the whole “central norm” and moving closer to the fringes you and others leaving comments have described. It’s terrifyingly exciting! There’s so much more in my head that I can’t put into coherent thought at the moment. I loook forward to, as Bette mentioned, “coming back.” (Bette, I too love the image of water blown loose!) –Karla

  2. Bette, I agree that our creative life benefits greatly from a community of support!

    Cathleen, thanks for bringing up that vital question, the truth of who we are. I also hold onto that image of being at the center of things and at the edges at the same time.

    Thank you both for your thoughtful words. I am most grateful for the responses this post stirred from all of you. I am headed out of town for a few days but will carry these insights with me and will let them percolate.

    Blessings, Christine

  3. Some of the questions that are surfacing this Lent are prompted by one of your previous posts: in what ways can I more honestly tell and live my truth? Truth of who I am? Truth of both my limitations and my gifts? And how can I more fully claim my call to ministry, begun in baptism by parents who like yours didn’t claim the faith, when I am not able to serve as I did in the past ? My spiritual director has said on more than one ocassion that people like ourselves offer what is needed at the core of the church but we must function at its edges (as a Catholic sister she too lives this reality.) On my better days I am able to live into these questions while giving thanks for the company of like souls along the way who offer words of refreshment and photos that capture the wonder of nature. Thank you!

  4. This is a great subject. As an artist and poet, creating is my spiritual, my prayer, my meditation. But I enjoy going to church to sing, to commune with God and friends, to feel that sense of community, to experience joy, love, and laughter – things that I don’t get when I am creating art by myself :)

    I have good memories of being baptised fully-submersed. I was in 8th grade. It was and still is a sacred moment.

  5. Me, thank you for these reflections, truly beautiful words I will have to ponder for a while. I resonate with much of what you have said.

    Kayce/lucy, thank you! Yes, this is definitely a thread that has been weaving itself through my conversations and reflections. I think it is difficult for any creative person to navigate the limitations of an institution. Church by its nature is slow to change and embrace the new, which is frustrating for people with vision about what is possible for that body of believers.

    Blessings to you both, I am graced by your words. Christine

  6. what a beautiful post–both words and pictures. it reminds me of our conversation over tea with tune. your words resonate deeply with me also as i try to find my place amidst the tradition of the church and the magnificence of the world. why are these so difficult to merge?

    also, your photos remind me of my husband’s photo appropriately title “offering”. it is on my blog post of december 7.

    blessings to you this day! k

  7. This was a revealing post – it says a great deal about you. I find your baptism waters beautiful and important and I find it a wonderful prophecy that your parents named you and baptized you in a faith they did not have.

    So much that begs little side-bar comments and thoughts but what felt central was the call to community and your struggle to know what community is yours – where you belong – I think it is wonderful that you stay put while understanding that it is a mixed place – I think that many stand in mixed places shifting from foot to foot sometimes comfortable sometimes not.

    The symbolism of baptism is rich and perhaps in that lies the answer to community – you were baptized and the waters of baptism feed roots – to uproot them, perhaps means that you shake the baptismal water of your skin and become a rolling stone or a tumble weed. Perhaps the waters of baptism are what give you a place to anchor yourself and even if the harbor isn’t always comfortable – it is safe.

    It isn’t the most coherent ramble but I seem unable to make it more clear.

  8. Thanks Bette, I was almost going to wait and post this in the morning, but I must have heard you calling. :-) I love your image of blowing the water loose! Sweet dreams my friend, Christine

  9. Christ-ine is a most beautiful name. It is also the name of my favorite Aunt who lives in San Jose.

    I just had to check your blog before I went to bed and I’m so glad I did. Your photos with water droplets of baptism gave me goosebumps and every single thought and word in your prose struck me as if the wind blew those droplets loose upon my face. I will dream of these thoughts and images and will return again in the morning :)

    wow.

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