Washrooms: Washing to Reveal

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.

Lorena Gay-Griffin

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3 Responses to Washrooms: Washing to Reveal

  1. Betty Allison says:

    You must have been going to a completely different Methodist Church than I grew up in, was Baptized by and still attend. Baptism in the Methodist Church does not wash away sins or make you saved. It simply gives you the Grace offered by God for all those who believe in him. Don’t downgrade other beliefs in an effort to make your own seem the right one. I typically enjoy reading “Words of Wisdom”, but every once in a while, it becomes a vehicle of “everyone else is bad, and we are good.”

    • Betty,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. While I am not the author of this post, I can assure you that it was not written in the spirit of judgment or condemnation. Lorena is simply expressing her own impressions and understanding, based on her experience. Indeed, so many of us have different experiences with churches, even within denominations. Sometimes this is regional, sometimes simply based on the individual pastor or priest, or on the makeup of the congregation itself.

      I appreciate, too, you sharing your perspective that we sometimes come across as denigrating other faiths. That is also something we never intend to do, and clearly should be more careful to avoid! Please understand that ours is a questioning faith, and as such when we reflect on where we have been, it is natural for us to examine both the positive and the negative aspects of our previous experiences with religious traditions, as well as our current interactions with people who embrace differing belief systems. But the expression of a personal viewpoint is never intended to imply superiority.

      Thank you for being on this journey with us.

      With gratitude,

  2. Barbara Stahnke says:

    Lovely history Lorena. I do love this blessing of the child. Blessings with water have always appealed to me as they seem to be saying here you are and you are with us in both the physical and spiritual form. We humans are mostly water. When we share water it is evidence of our connections physically. The water soaks in and joins us; some goes back to the planet connecting us to the earth. The “baptism” truly is a connecting force.

    Thank you Betty & Christian as well. Your words together brought me back to the reasons why I revere my Catholic heritage. My deep social justice needs were both born in me and developed in me through Catholicism. I am not a Catholic today because I do not accept that faith traditions beliefs. I am grateful though for the experiences of faith I received as a child. I think from hearing Lorena speak on the pulpit of UUCG that this statement may hold true for her as well. Finding my faith that allows me to walk this planet with honor and love did mean that others felt I was denigrating their faith. However, over time most of those who objected, continue to help me walk my path as well as help me understand theirs.

    Today I am grateful to you all for the memories and the new way of thinking about them.

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