My friend Leila has kind of a zen view. I like her philosophy of charitable giving: "Give where you are spiritually fed," she suggests. We have interesting talks in which she tries to explain to me the state of existence above the plane of duality where there's no good or bad, things just "are." I'm more backward than she is: I keep saying "But if something isn't bad how can it not be good?? And if that plane exists, then there's the plane of duality and the plane of non-duality, which is a duality." It's OK. If it's a spiritual direction in which I need to go, then I'll evolve to it at my own pace. Then there's my ardently anti-religion husband -- he bought a "Born Again Pagan" t-shirt for amusement, but even paganism is too religious for him -- and my conservative Baptist brother.
It was with my brother's family that I just saw my first full-immersion baptism. My niece, who's 11, was baptized this past weekend. I got to be there for something that means the world to people I love, but that's a foreign experience for me, and to see it through their eyes.
My bro and I were raised in the Episcopal church. He was an acolyte. I, 7 years older, wanted to be but this was a closed door to girls in the 60's, in the south anyway. It was for the best though. My interest was a whole lot of desire to be on stage, and no conviction.
Anyway, I'm used to much formality, and to infant baptism. Confirmation for us was at age 12-ish, in 6th grade. We underwent lots of preparation, lots of ceremony. I had a new white dress made out of that 1966 Fortrel (R) stuff that resembled foam rubber, and my first "heels," only an inch and a half tall. All followed by a back yard cookout with gifts -- religious gifts, but gifts nonetheless.
Sunday school "confirmation class" was a year-long thing we took seriously as our key to an important rite of passage. Though once we'd been confirmed and they still expected us to attend confirmation class, my same-age cousin and I decided that was ridiculous. You don't have to keep submitting applications when you're in the club, fer cripes sake. So we would get our bottled Nehi's out of the fellowship hall vending machine, but instead of moseying over to class, we'd go back out to the parking lot, hide on the floor of our parked car till classes started and the lot cleared, then sneak across the street to play in the park.
Circa 20 years ago my brother became a Baptist. Such decisions are highly personal. I've never talked to him about whatever experience moved him to do this.
My default setting is that, in our varying concepts of God or of whatever drives the universe, we each have strictly a "radiant" relationship with it, meaning that each of us is like a wheel spoke. We radiate from the wheel's hub. The other spokes have their own direct connections to the hub, they don't go through me, and their perceptions of that hub's nature should not be challenged by me. I don't consider myself to have the authority or the right to try. This is why I'm pretty much anti-evangelical. Faith is something that can be shared, sure, but that does not need to be.
My bro and I remain close because we give each other full space and acceptance of the different paths we've taken. Anyway, I'd been to a couple services in this church, including my turn as their bridesmaid in 1994, but did not know exactly what to expect from a Baptist full-immersion baptism. I was invited to be there with them so I got ready for a road trip.
[FASHION STUFF ALERT - GUYS CAN IGNORE THIS NEXT PART]
The first thing guys would groan about is that I had time to either get the oil changed, or buy a dress. I bought a dress.
My problem is that I'm not fashion-oriented enough. All my dresses are 10 years old. Outdated style is not a problem in itself. But being age-inappropriate is.
Saturday morning I hauled out my dress options and had to accept that the lacy bibs and flouncy sleeves just do not work on a 53-year-old woman. I came out and said to Larry, "I have to go buy a dress." He said, "I'll come with you and we'll use the Magic Card." At J. C. Penney, I left him the shoe department, hit the sale rack, and, lo-and-behold! found something right away. Simple, nice, and reduced from $70, to $17.49! He got just as good a deal on some sneakers.
[OK, END OF FASHION STUFF]
Next was to gather up the music-to-drive-to CDs I'd spent Friday compiling and burning (instead of checking my wardrobe), and get on the road. It's about a 5 hour drive from here to my brother and sister-in-law's little NC town. When there's no tourist traffic jam, that is. My trip was closer to 7 hours. The CDs didn't play. Well, one did, but much as I love Billie Holiday, I was pretty sick of it by the time i got home.
Rolled into town, and this cool car, which does not resemble anything that occurs in automotive nature, was waiting at the town's one-light intersection. By the time I got the camera on I was too late to capture what Larry tells me is important identification information - the headlights and grill. He says it's a custom or a kit car.
My bro was away till late evening doing biology field work, so my sister-in-law took me and the kids to a local Italian restaurant. Here in this tiny town was this nice little place where they make everything fresh, have their own garden behind the restaurant for fresh herbs and salad veggies. Which I missed photographing because we were around the block before I got the camera out of my purse and turned on. My next camera will hold a charge for an extended time, blast it, and let me leave it on for unexpected shots.
Next morning was the service.
Superficially, the lack of long study and ceremony can make a Baptist baptism seem downright casual.
It's not. Not at all. It's a decision so important that it must be made by you, not for you. But it's also more emotional and less studied. No year-long class. No test on the Apostles' Creed or other doctrine. No set age, though about 7 -- the age of reason -- seems to be the minimum. Each child, or adult, undergoes baptism when he or she is moved to do so. My niece had announced her readiness and gone to the altar to profess her faith at the end of service a couple weeks before this, rather surprising her parents.
She and the pastor are standing in the baptismal pool here. The ceremony is brief. The pastor says a few words about the congregant, and asks her to state her "profession of faith." Then he lowers her into the water and lifts her back up.
Because my niece has all these weird Episcopal relatives, she had gifts to open. No other kids had gifts, they just towelled off their hair and proceeded with a normal Sunday. And I needed to get back on the road to get home before dark.
By the time I'd listened to my 2 listenable CD's (one homemade and one commercial) for the umpteenth time I was on the lookout for a place -- any place! -- to buy CD's. But on the tourist-avoidance route I took, there was not a single mall, WalMart, Kmart or Target.
Wonderful little rural towns dot the route.
But no music stores.
But the drive was smooth and easy. A sullen Graymatter shunned me for 5 hours after I got home, making me wonder what kinds of punishment she'll dole out when we take a week's vacation. I'll think about it later. This was a good weekend, a unique experience for me and very beautiful.