I became a baptized and confirmed “official” Episcopalian on February 19th, 2012. Leading up to this decision and going through with this event was at once both spontaneous and deeply thought out. When presented with the opportunity to become both baptized and confirmed, instead of my usual resistance and deep reservation, I experienced neither and instead simply thought to myself, “Why not? What do I have to lose?” I pondered and considered greatly all the personal ramifications this would bring and then thought about what it actually meant to me to do it. Would it really do anything when I still have so many doubts and unbeliefs? Come the morning when the baptism was to actually occur the Bishop was in the parish hall with all those to be baptized, confirmed, and received and was presented with a similar question: Is it okay if one still has doubts? His answer was yes and that is because the process of becoming baptized and confirmed isn’t really about you the individual, but it’s about accepting that thing which is much larger than us – God’s grace. While I personally cannot find the right words to accurately describe what “God’s grace” means, and most certainly couldn’t have answered it any better then, it was at that moment that I instantly felt relief wash over me and I immediately felt more at peace with my decision. It’s okay that I didn’t feel certain with all of the doctrines and scripture presented by the Anglican tradition and the Christian faith because I was accepting something into my heart and my life bigger and beyond all of those things and all of my doubts.
I had never been baptized in my life as I was raised in a non-religious, although still spiritual, household with parents who had acquired a severe distaste for organized religion from their childhoods. I had no real concept of what being baptized would do FOR me or TO me if anything at all. Episcopalian baptisms do not involve full-body submersion but instead holy water is poured on the crown of the head and a cross is made on one’s forehead with anointing oil to “seal” the baptismal covenant one has just made. All priests seem to have a different preferred approach to this, and infant baptisms are different than adult baptisms in approach as well. A baby can be held over the baptismal font and it’s decidedly less messy. The bishop on the other hand preferred to cup his hands together and bring the water over the top of your head, three times of course. I got quite wet needless to say, which took me a bit off my guard at first as I was not only the first one to get baptized that morning and thus unaware of how he was going to do it, but also having cool water poured on top of one’s head can be rather jolting. After that, receiving the cross on my forehead (which, when done by the Bishop I was told “confirmed” me simultaneously), and receiveing a special baptismal candle, I stood and watched the same thing happen to the others. After returning to my seat, and ever since, I have actually felt different. It’s kind of hard to describe but the best way I know how is that I felt lighter both physically and spiritually, and I also felt an almost glowing kind of humming sensation right down to my physical core. It was like my solar plexus was all open and whirring – it was pretty neat. And while the physical sensation may not have stayed constantly since, I still feel that spiritual/mental “lifting up” lightness that I had when it first happened, and upon recalling the event can bring the physical sensation back. I feel more “in tune” with the spirtual side of things and I just feel better all the way around. I never thought that being baptized would ever have an effect on me like that, but it did. I’m quite glad it did too.
Being baptized and made an “official” Episcopalian, however, does not mean that I have suddenly abandoned all sense of reason, my love and respect of science, or the majority of previous held beliefs. Luckily, the Anglican tradition is often viewed as a three-legged stool comprised of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, so thinking deeply and critically is encouraged regarding everything. I could not belong to a religious tradition which discourage scientific facts or rational thought, such as one sees in many mainline Protestant and Evangelical churches – they make me sad and angry. As an individual who operates primarily as a logical individual I cannot accept things on “faith alone” which do not make sense to me. Therefore, I do not claim to believe in the virgin birth, Christian creationism, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or many of the scientifically and physically impossible things claimed in the Bible – as mentioned in a previous post I view the majority of those things as allegories. I also know enough about the world’s religions and cultures to be unable to rationalize the doctrine that Christianity is the one “true” religion and the only way one can attain “salvation” in the afterlife. There is very little that is actually unique about Christianity both in a modern sense and an historical sense (which may be a blog post unto itself at some point) in order to maintain this stance of being the one and only correct system of belief one should ever follow. But I’m digressing a little.
The faith that I as an individual have, operating within the framework of the Episcopalian tradition, is one that leans more towards an Earth-based spirituality. I often feel that my heart is still “pagan” but mentally, spiritually, and physically I have now moved to this other arena of religiosity that I view as an exploration that I have not been on before. I have an intense respect of the natural world that is my home and an intense desire to see it protected. I feel more spiritual being both in nature and observing nature than I have ever felt anywhere else. I draw most of my own inspiration from the natural world around me. I fully believe that just like many of our ancestors, one can operate within the Christian framework while holding more “pagan” beliefs and attitudes in regards to the nature of the Divine, the afterlife, daily spiritual practice, and so on. I feel more fulfilled through an integration and syncretism of spirituality than I do maintaining rigid constructs about what is and isn’t permitted into a person’s own faith. I like being eclectic and having the freedom to keep what works for me and to leave behind (after educated and thoughtful consideration) what doesn’t. So yes, I do consider myself an Episcopalian now, but that certainly doesn’t change who I am nor does it change the way I think about the world. I’m just operating under a different label now.