Six years ago, on May 23, 2010, I was baptized.
The church I attended only did baptisms once a year, so each year a few hundred people would take the plunge. Of those, a couple dozen were asked to share a short narrative of how our lives had brought us to those waters and what it meant for us. I was one of those.
So stood in front of a microphone, surrounded on all sides by a few hundred people, shaking and reading. My parents were somewhere in the room; I didn’t know where. When tears threatened to choke out my voice, I looked to the second row on my right, which is where my closest friends sat.
And this is what I read:
I’m Kate, and this is part of my story.Growing up I often felt isolated, ostracized, unloved. My closest friends were books until I was old enough for boys to begin noticing me. Throughout high school and college I turned to them for love, not realizing they were incapable of filling my need. As a result, I allowed various men to abuse me in various ways. I retreated into my intellect and barricaded myself behind a layer of fat, hoping to protect myself from future hurts. Neither did.Then, last summer, I began yoga, stretching my muscles, stilling my heart, and learning to breathe. I stopped intellectualizing God and began living in God. I started eating food designed by the Creator, not the corporation. As I listened to my body’s wants, I also heard the want for God. I lifted weights and God lifted my burdens. I began turning to God instead of men. I’ve shed many pounds and, more importantly, shed a destructive way of life, re-integrating my intellect with my soul and body so that they are indistinguishable.Today, I am here to publicly announce that I am one woman, following Jesus and in love with God. My waist is a fraction of the size it was, but my capacity to extend and receive love, grace, and compassion has multiplied through God. I owe much to my Mars Hill family, and everything to the God who truly wastes nothing.
Afterwards, the pastor came over to me, hugged me, and told me: You have no idea how many people you impacted today. I remember looking at him incredulously, but minutes later I was drenched in baptismal water and people kept stopping me, asking if they could hug me (essentially dousing themselves in my baptism), talk to me, thank me. More than a couple of them were in tears.
That morning was the first time I realized that I might actually be gifted with words. It was the first time my use of language felt like it had the potential to be something other than a weapon. Language had lived in my armory, an array of cutting devices used to keep people away or, if they got too close, used to maim before they could harm me. On the day of my baptism, I realized that language could live in my treasury, could be a resource, and even a gem gifted to others.
That morning was also when I first realized that my particular story might touch on something of the universal human condition. I had spent my life engaged in stories, looking for what they could teach me about humanity in general and my own humanity in particular. It hadn’t occurred to me that my life might contain those truths for others until I saw the tears.
That morning, my baptism, was a big part of what propelled me forward on the path towards seminary and ordination.
Since that moment, my life has changed in so many ways. I live in a different time zone. I’ve gone from single to married. I’ve moved from the nondenominational megachurch of my baptism to the Episcopal Church.
And there’s the change that some part of me feels I should be most ashamed of: I gained back nearly all the weight I had lost.
My embodied practices took a back burner (a way far back burner) to the intellectual and emotional work I was doing in school, especially in the final year when I embarked on a project around sin, identity, and grief. The degree program asked a lot of me, and the work felt more important than the 2+ hours/day that I had been spending at various gyms and studios.
Which isn’t to deny how important that work was for me, at the time. I had had decades of unprocessed grief to get through, and yoga and running gave me that space. I had to learn my own strength and agency after decades of operating out of learned helplessness, and martial arts was where I needed to do that.
I haven’t completely abandoned the practices. I still need those mind/body practices for my sense of self, for remembering “grace, space, and pace” as Ben Katt puts it (with help from Jaguar’s motto).
I still find my way to my yoga mat, especially when I’m feeling stressed. I make some little time to practice my martial art (translation: to punch and kick until I feel my frustration and aggression, and then punch and kick some more until they diminish). I walk quite often, but it’s a walk, not a run. Which is perhaps the whole metaphor: I walk because I don’t need to run. It’s movement, but it’s slower, gentler, and more sustainable.
But I reached a point where the lessons from the intense practices became internalized, and it feels like it was okay that the practices loosened. I internalized the lessons of inner strength and compassion, and I extend those lessons to my own self, especially when I fail to stick to a regimen. I no longer had to spend quite as much time in those practices, because I was living the outcomes of the practice more regularly.
Truthfully, it feels good to have goals that exist outside my own body. Before, my goals were around the number on the scale, the number of pounds I could lift over my head, the number of minutes it took to run three miles.
It feels good to have moved on to hopes that are about more than my body alone, that are about expanding my intellect and heart as equally important aspects of my health. It feels good to have goals that center around helping others find compassion, grace, and strength, both in their bodies and in their hearts. It feels good to have goals that are about spiritual maturity and relationship and community for all.
My baptism feels like a starting place, a seed. I’m still processing so many of the same themes, but from such a different place of growth. An identity was gifted to me in my baptism, at once fully given and received, and also beyond my ability to receive. So I’m living into it, one day at a time, looking back to those waters for faith and understanding, even as I move forward with hope for continued resurrection.
Never miss a post and gain access to the free, ever-expanding resource library by signing up! The library includes a list of baptisms movies and scenes that offer more entry points into understanding baptism and baptismal identity.
Share in the comments…
How do you understand your baptismal identity?
How has your understanding of your baptism and baptismal identity changed over time (or, has it)?
If you were baptized as an adult: do you still connect with the way you understood your baptism at the tie?