Gaudate Sunday…today is an important anniversary for me. Six years ago this very morning, around 11:10 a.m., I was baptized for a second time in my adult life. That day in December was, like today, the third Sunday of Advent, also in the Lectionary cycle Year C. That day in December, I joined the Calvary Baptist Church and embraced a form of Christian and community identity based in the Baptist distinctives, a group of beliefs about individual and community practice that is best described by the charter covenant of the Alliance of Baptists. It has been the lens through which I have understood my life in Christ for almost ten years now, a view of faith that has formed me, and the foundation of a community that has nurtured me for many years.
And yet, as I stand here on this anniversary day, I could not be simultaneously more close to that moment of baptism and further away from it. I stand here, considering how my understanding about my own identity as a disciple has moved and changed since that December day, considering all that I have lost and gained along the way. I will not be worshiping on this anniversary day with that community that baptized me, nor will I be worshiping there in the foreseeable future. You see, I realize that it is time, after all the events of the past two years and all that I have had to do to heal and reclaim my life after my surgery, time to stop fighting the transformation has been the byproduct of that healing. It is time to embrace, with my whole, repaired heart, the new identity that has resulted from that work: today, I embrace my identity, not as an adherent of specific gathering or denomination, but as a pilgrim along the Christian way. I have, to echo Robert Wuthnow’s definnition, become a seeker not a dweller (After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950’s); the only sacred place that holds meaning for me right now is the place of the journey itself, the place along the road of life, the place that is my relationship with my God.
Questions of identity have continually driven my search for a deeper and more meaningful expression of faith, and I should not be surprised at the current state of that faith. I am, at this time, the sum total of all that I have learned in each community that I have experienced. Since the term presbyunibaptopalian* is a bit, well, clumsy, I have decided that pilgrim is not only easier to say but a more accurate label for my current state of being. You see, I have no idea where I will stop next nor how long I might stay. A life lived in search of healing, in search of ways to incorporate the practice of healing into my daily living, has taught me that the journey is really all that we have, a journey with (if we are lucky) some lovely sightseeing and companionship along the way.
So now, pilgrim that I am, I have decided to honor all that I am. I have learned that, I most experience a sense of healing in that moment when I can embrace my changed sense of identity and be at peace in the knowledge that, just as that identity has been changed before, it will be changed again. There is only the road behind and the road ahead, and, most of all, the place where I stand right now.
This morning, as I stood in worship in an unfamiliar place, the words of the prayer offered before the table meal spoke as if just to me:
We hear from Jesus of the coming of the Son of Man. He warns us to be ready for change, to be awake. We wonder what this can mean now as we grope in the tattered remains of our faltering hopes for a better world. And we light our Advent candles, as of old, savoring tradition even as we yearn for change. … In our hope for change, we pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, this bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us and so strengthen us to be change agents. May Jesus come to us still as God’s power in our humanity. May change agents in our own day inspire and move in us to translate your dream into reality, to fire our hearts and minds and wills to love and serve you in the world (St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 12/13/2015, adapted from Rev. Susan Flanders)
We cannot be the agents of change that we are called to be in this world if we ourselves are afraid of change. And so, pilgrimage it is.
What better way to begin by remembering another beginning. So today, I stand again in the water of my baptism. New things ahead, new worlds to see, new ways to experience the God of my being. All made possible by a moment in the water, some six years ago today. With joy, I draw water from the wells of my salvation, to paraphrase the prophet (Isaiah 12:3).
If you are interested in finding out just where these changes might take me, you can continue to follow my thoughts and adventures along the pilgrim’s path at a new location: Subversive Light. I look forward to meeting you again along the way.
*Presbyterian, Unity School of Religious Science, Baptist, Episcopalian