Today's post is dedicated to my cousin Mary Martin, who died Sunday of cancer. May she be at peace. - D
As I've blogged before, I was brought up Southern Baptist. This meant that I started feeling the pressure early in life to be baptized, along with all that entails. I was nine years old when I decided to take the plunge, so to speak.
I was always afraid of the water, because if I even thought about getting in anything but the wading pool, my mom would freak out. "You'll drown!" she shouted from the side of the pool. "Your daddy will kill me!" My mom knew how to swim. She learned by being thrown into the middle of the fish pond on the farm. It was sink or swim as her father paddled the rowboat back to the bank. She swam, of course, hence I am here to tell the tale.
My brothers knew how to swim and were allowed to be daredevils. We girls were kept sheltered. So when I finally declared myself "saved" and applied for baptism, my stomach began to tie itself in knots. I lost sleep. I fretted constantly, twisting my hair into little dreadlocks. The day approached and I began to have bad dreams of drowning in the baptismal.
The morning of the baptism, I joined my fellow baptism candidates in a small room "backstage." We all took off our shoes and stockings and placed them with our little bags containing a change of clothing. We donned white robes and lined up outside the baptismal, which overlooked the choir loft.
After a few opening words from the pastor, who stood in the baptismal, and a song from the choir, it was time. One of the ladies helping us came down the line to collect glasses from those of us who wore them. I panicked! I was (and am) blind as a bat without my glasses.
"It will be okay," she said, "I'll be waiting for you on the other side with your glasses and a towel."
Nervously, I watched each young person before me stepping down the three stairs into the waist- or chest-deep water (depending on our height). The pastor said a few words, held the nose of the one being baptized and leaned him/her back into the water. Full immersion. I thought about the water that would be getting in my ears. I thought about having my head underwater (a terrible feeling!), and I thought about backing out.
Backing out wasn't an option. It would embarrass my mother, who was in the congregation surrounded by family and friends. It would eventually have to happen or the pressure would just worsen. No child that I knew ever got out of being baptized. I had to go through with it.
My turn arrived. Our pastor was looking up to me, his hand outstretched. I took those three awful steps down into the water. It was warm and soothing. I stood before the pastor, his hand hovering over my head as he asked God to take away my sins and make me new. He brought that hand down and put it behind my waist. His other hand covered my face and held my nose. He leaned me back into the water.
Suddenly the water filled my ears. It was a loud roar. My panic grew! What was in reality a few seconds became an eternity. I imagined myself drowning in the baptismal and thanked God that at least I would be a baptized soul when I died. My hands, which were supposed to be neatly clasped at my waist, flew out to the sides, sloshing water dangerously up the glass separating the baptismal from the choir loft.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was upright again, water running off of me like a fountain. In my excitement at being alive and breathing, I shouted, "HOO-BOY!"
Giggles in the choir turned into belly laughs in the congregation. I hurried up the steps on the opposite side and into a warm towel. Even the nice lady who had my glasses and towel was laughing. I imagined my mother cringing and sitting lower in the pew. However, she got a good laugh out of it, too, and it became one of those stories that stuck. No one ever forgot it.
But my baptism was nothing like the one you'll see in this video. I didn't have nearly as much fun, nor did I actually splash anyone. Yet he'll have this story (and video proof) for his offspring and everyone after (depending on how long videos survive in our rapidly changing world!)
Enjoy! - D