A Divine Dunking
Lessons of a full-immersion baptism
One night when I was 10, I stopped waiting for a Damascus-like experience. I had done the math and realized that half my Sunday school class had already gone forward to be baptized. I searched my brain and could not think of any child in the church who had entered junior-high unbaptized. The time seemed about right. I told my mom, she contacted Pastor Bill, I attended new-member classes, and one Sunday I walked to the front of the sanctuary during the final hymn.
And so I found myself standing in what was essentially a big bathtub, awaiting spiritual transformation. Although some Baptists still perform baptisms in rivers, my home church opted for an indoor version, saving me from the chemicals of the nearby Detroit River. My mind was not exactly on the state of my soul. I wondered how holy I could feel wearing a polka-dotted swimsuit next to my pastor, who had donned wading boots. I worried that the microphone into which I was supposed to speak would fall into the baptistery and electrocute us. Oddly, I didn't fret about the baptism statement I had written--a radical denunciation of the congregation for not accepting my Catholic father, even though I knew him to be an excellent Christian role model.
More than anything, the decision to be baptized was the result of a simple risk assessment. I didn't feel that in my 10 years on earth I had done anything sinful enough to require cleansing. On the other hand, the constant refrain from the pulpit admonished that, if a bus hit me on the way home and I died unbaptized, I would go to hell.Waiting in the baptismal, I sincerely wanted to experience the power of baptism. But I was also hedging my heavenly bets.
Before I knew it, I had read my diatribe, been blessed, been dipped back into the water, got some water up my nose, made my dad cry, and returned to the choir-robe room to have my hair blown-dry by one of the deaconesses. I felt ... exactly the same.
I do believe in miraculous conversions of the type portrayed in the movie "The Apostle," but I have learned to stopped expecting the "Jesus bumps" my Sunday school teacher always talked about. I also believe that for someone who has been raised in the Baptist church and has never done much of anything to stray, baptism is not the symbol of one affirmative choice but rather an experience that is recalled in thousands of small choices made over a lifetime.
My baptism meant very little to me at age 10; it means everything to me now.