Twenty six years ago I had recently returned to the Methodist Church after a young adult hiatus of 6 or 8 years. That’s when my first baby was born. I had a beautiful hand-made Christening gown that belonged to my father, and I wanted my baby to wear it. Caught up in sentimentality, without giving it a whole lot of thought, I had my daughter Aline baptized at the age for four months. If I’m honest, it was always more about the gown than anything sacred.
Church was somewhat different than I remembered it. For one thing, I was different. For another, I was living in Lawrenceville, GA, a much more conservative place than Orlando, FL, where I spent my youth. The political landscape had shifted. Soon after Aline’s baptism, there were discussions about homosexuality, feminist spirituality, abortion. I found myself on the opposite side of most of the positions of the church. I left and, (making a long story short) began to attend UUCG.
Two and a half years after Aline, my son Walker, was born. He’ll be 24 in a couple of weeks. When Walker was 7 days old, I picked him up after a nap and his temperature was 106. My week-old baby had spinal meningitis. He recovered from that, but it was followed by a string of other health-related issues. I didn’t want to baptize him, but by his first birthday I felt compelled to honor his place in the world.
I conferred with Frances West, who was the minister here at the time. I researched the meaning of Baptism and of other infant rituals. I was shocked to learn that, in the Methodist church, baptism was really about washing away original sin. That set off alarms throughout my entire body. My baby was pure and innocent. He needed cleansing from nothing.
In the end, we cleansed ourselves. We held a potluck lunch at our home, attended by family and friends. The focus was on a Hopi word – Koyaanisqatsi – which means “life out of balance”. Everyone there except for Walker had their hands washed by Frances, washing away that which distracts us from what we claim is important.
Original sin is a biggie for me. In fact, on reflection, I believe it may be the fundamental difference between Unitarians and traditional Christians. Is humanity essentially evil or good? There is a difference between purification and cleansing. The world coats us with a film of the day, creating a barrier between others and ourselves. But that is all. We wash not to change ourselves, but rather to reveal ourselves.