As you may already know, if you read last weeks post entitled “Testify”, I have decided to take an extended trip down memory lane. For the next few Sundays, I will be revisiting specific sections of my faith story and sharing them with you. I feel that this is an important part of my current process, and a part that is essential for any Christian. Whether you step out and share your story with 10’s, 100’s, millions … or simply one person in your living room, the power of releasing your story into the world is unimaginable.
This post may be the official Part 2 of this series, but in truth it has been written about a million times and I can only hope that this time I got it right. It is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest part of this story to write.
Easiest because its the part that I am most proud of, in a way, and hardest because it all happened when I was about about 13 years old. Sadly, my recollection of much of my younger years is pretty vague and is in large part pieced together from snippits of memory and stories my family and friends have shared with me. I am not certain why my memory is so vague from my childhood, but it is part of the reason why I am putting so much effort into recording things in various forms now. I don’t want to lose any of it.
In this way, writing this post is one of the most difficult because my past is remembered in small flashes. The flash of a camera here, recording the image of fidgeting preteens in church pews. A word there. The smell of the grape juice from the snack at catechism class, while we sat listening to another chatechumen debate dinosaurs, Eden, and science with our discussion leader.
However, here is what I know.
My mother was raised Catholic. My father has and continues to claim that he believes there is some sort of God, but that religion is just not his thing. As a result of their differing views, they agreed to allow me to choose baptism when I was old enough to do so myself. This is not exactly traditional Catholic custom, but it is a decision I will forever respect and thank my parents for.
I have always been incredibly independent, preferring to teach myself, learn things the long way, and make decisions with the amount of support I feel I need. My parents couldn’t have known what type of child I was going to be when they made that decision, but it provided me the opportunity to explore and decide in the exact way I needed to.
Growing up, I went to Sunday Mass most weeks, trailing along behind my mom with varying levels of interest depending on the day. I chewed a lot of gum, swung my feet back and forth, analyzed the backs of peoples heads, and sometimes wished secretly that mom would let me sit in the room with the window and toys for the kids. She rarely did and so rather than daydreaming, I tried to understand what I could. We sat in the same pew every week, I sang the songs, knew the hand gestures and learned congregational responses by heart. I listened as intently as a young kid could, to people speaking of things a touch out of her grasp. These habits were beginning to engrain themselves on me, but gradually, something started to shift…
The songs were no longer memorized lyrics but part of my own heartbeat. The Sunday Missal was no longer an instruction manual for getting through Mass, but something to study. The verses read on Sundays began to make a little bit of sense, speaking to something unknown but deeper.
And then, we were asked if I would like to take part in the catechism class that would be hosted at the church. The choice, as agreed years earlier, was mine and I agreed.
I remember feeling fear as I first started my catechism classes, walking into an well known space but an unknown journey. My only comfort was the familiar faces of two school friends who were there, I believe, at the request of their parents and my “sponsor”. An older woman whom I called Auntie Bea, a family friend whom I had asked to be my support and mentor through this new journey. She was incredibly supportive, attending every class, walking every step with me … and even supporting me as I chose “Ambrosia” as my confirmation name. A word that has its root in the Greek words for “immortal” and “elixir for life” and was defined to me at the time as “divine” or “something pleasing to God”, but seems to continuously remind me of a sweet, church potluck salad that I have always hated. It seems the name is shared not only with this less than appetizing salad, but is also shared with a handful of saints of days gone by, some martyred for their faith and others devoted to sharing it. (A current project of mine is to research these saints more deeply, in an effort to replace the repugnant memory of ambrosia salad, with the more welcome and inspiring knowledge of martyrs and evangelists)
As with the rest of this story, I only remember snippits of my baptism. Fidgeting in my seat, standing at the front, devoting my life to the Lord through the words “I Do”, baptized with water, confirmed with the laying of hands and the dabbing of chrism, elation. I remember the emotion most of all, the feeling of fear at first and excitement afterwards. The way the church banded around me, even as we gathered to eat later, embraces and congratulations and hand shakes and despite the chaos of being tugged and passed between each excited person, peace. All the while the unbelievable feeling of peace had settled over me, gradually but unmistakably. As if truly being welcomed in, or wrapped in an embrace by my Father and by my Family.
Thinking of that feeling now, I am reminded of how the book Christian Initiation of Older Children describes baptism.
Remember that when you are baptized in Water, by Name, and in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, you become a child of God the Father, who is able to grow more like Jesus the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in you. And you become a member of the Christian family, the Church.
Becoming and belonging.
While I know that God does not dwell in a building, and I have encountered Him in many places and situations, I still feel that embrace when I walk through the doors of that church. The first place I truly experienced the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and the Family melding together in the Easter Saturday service, when I was barely 13.
Its a knowing feeling, like coming home and understanding you belong.
Read Part 3 – Lie to Me