Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Rebirth

This Saturday is the big day! Zosia is being baptized, receiving the sacrament that symbolizes her belovedness-- a truth that was already made so fully evident in her creation. The Baptism of Jesus has been so present in my thoughts lately, especially the the words from heaven after Jesus emerges from the Jordan: "You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you." I only hope that Zosia, as she grows and encounters the world can hear those same words uttered deep within her own heart: "You are my daughter, the Beloved; my favor rests on you."
On Monday, Ben Zosia and I attended the baptism prep class at our church. We met several other families with little ones being baptized in the coming months, and had the opportunity to reflect a bit on the sacrament of baptism. One question we reflected on was something to the effect of, "What is the significance of water in baptism." Together, we came up with several answers; it is cleansing, refreshing, powerful, and sometimes dangerous. However, leaving the class, I felt that there was a dimension of this question that did not feel fully answered. I kept thinking of water and birth, or, in this case, rebirth.
Today, several days later, I have put the pieces together.
Proponents of water birth say that delivering a baby into a bath of body-temperature water is the most calm and welcoming way to enter earth. The bath itself simulates the womb-- so the baby comes into the world in steps, first into a warm pool, and then into its mother's arms. Baptism in water serves a similar purpose: it literally simulates the birth process through entering into water and then emerging back into the world. It is re-enacting birth in order to fully embody the rebirth that it is internally signifying.
So, here are a few thoughts on my observations of birth that may or may not give insight into Zosia's baptism:
1. Birth is cooperative-- both mother and baby work together to negotiate the transition from womb to world. Who are the entities that are cooperating in Baptism? Baby and Creator? Baby and godparents? Baby and faith community? Perhaps some combination of all of these.
2. The experience of birth is so powerful that it absolutely forces mother and baby to be fully in the moment. If enlightenment is experiencing the now, then birthing was my single brightest glimpse into enlightenment. In the midst of a surge, I couldn't think of anything-- not the next moment, not the baby I was about to bring into the world. My mind was forced to stand totally still and observe the magnificent work of my body. How does baptism mirror this total awareness? Certainly, awareness of God's deep unfaltering love for each of us is the central pillar of living in the present-- it is the backdrop for that state that we find ourselves in when we are able to reign in our thoughts from the future, the past, back into the beautiful awareness of being in God's midst.
3. Birthing is spiritual but it is so, so physical. I remember the day after delivering Zosia I noticed that every muscle in my body was sore. I think that my neck muscles were the most sore of all, and I was perplexed... When I told Ben about it, he told me that as he watched me labor, he could literally see each muscle along my back tense up with each contraction. There was no part of my body that was uninvolved. Likewise, I'm sure that birth is perhaps one of the most physical experiences for baby. I remember Zosia's cone head in the moments after birth-- her body literally changed shape in her journey from the womb. The first day after she was born, she seemed totally shocked, as if to say," Wow, I had no idea my body could do that!" So, what is the physical nature of Baptism? Of course there is the literal immersion in water, but that is only the beginning. Baptism invites a transformation of our bodies, our physical lives, which are inexorably bound to the spirit that dwells within them. Baptism is an invitation to allow God into our selves, which transforms the core of our being.
4. Birthing is messy. I would love to see a baptism that literally simulates a birth complete with amniotic fluids and placenta. Babies aren't squeaky clean when they emerge from the womb-- they are sticky, slimy, beautifully human. Zosia had this awesome earthy smell to her until we gave her her first bath a week or so after she was born. I'm not quite sure how this relates to baptism. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that rebirth is messy too. Not in a totally physical sense, but in the sense that it is not perfect. Rachel Doll once said that she loves it when babies wail during their baptisms. It reminds her of how totally real baptism is. It involves people, and crying, and babies. I loved her reflection! Baptism is, in fact, messy. We plunge into those waters in the hopes that our every sin will be washed away and we will be perfect, but we emerge just as fully human as we were before we entered. Our journey through life towards that beauty from which we were created is a messy, clumsy scramble and not a clearly illuminated stroll.

Two days before Zosia's baptism, my deepest wish for my baby is that in her life she can rejoice in communion, awareness, physicality, and messiness, all the while feeling so incredibly loved.