Sacrament of Baptism

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I’ve been learning a lot of new things as I rebuild my relationship with the Lord and hopefully flourish again soon. I came to the Episcopal Church out of necessity, not only because of the liturgy and the Eucharist but also because of their progressive ideas. As I have observed and researched and had conversations with people, I’ve come to a different conclusion on some key beliefs that used to be different. I’ve tried not to make too much conversation with people that I knew would be unhappy about my new beliefs, but I’ve also been less than honest about some of my new beliefs in an effort not to rock that boat and for that I am sorry and I’m going to talk about what has changed for me.

I no longer believe in one magical moment of salvation, where one recites a prayer and somehow that means they get to go to heaven when they die. These days I know that baptism plays a part in salvation, and I’m wanting to get my children baptized because I believe that that will be their moment of salvation, and the Bible does seem to indicate that baptism is a part of the salvation process. Also, my children believe in God, and a belief in God and baptism is what guarantees their place in the Kingdom of God.

I also no longer believe in a literal hell, a place of eternal torment. I think we all go through our own personal hell on earth. Even if there were a literal hell, it isn’t the main point of what we are being saved from. I don’t even like the terminology “being saved”, because it seems to focus on hell rather than the fact that God is changing us to be more like God and that after we become Christians we are supposed to change. The waters of baptism regenerate us and show our belief and commitment to Jesus Christ. Also, heaven is not the point of salvation, heaven is merely one of the benefits of salvation. The point of being saved is to be saved from living in our sin and by our own strength.

“Being saved” is supposed to do something in the here and now while we are on earth. It’s supposed to change us and allow God to work in us. My children and I believe in God, and on Easter Sunday my children shall enter their baptismal covenant permanently marked as a child of God. I’ve come to realize the importance of the sacraments to Christian life and can’t wait for my children to experience the sacrament of baptism.

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Returning to the Lord

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God and I are officially on speaking terms again, although I must admit that God was always willing to be on speaking terms with me, but me…not so much. I’ve spent the last three months partaking of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus, weekly, and it’s been changing me. You cannot eat Jesus and not be changed. I don’t know how the bread and the wine become the body and blood, it’s one of those divine mysteries but all I know is that it does because I have experienced it.

I appreciate how the church calls confession “Reconciliation of a Penitent” because it focuses on the point which is the reconciliation with God. Yesterday I made a life confession because it was my first one and of course I couldn’t remember everything I’ve ever done but I think I hit the main points. And the thing is, confessing those things out loud to the priest and therefore to God, was freeing, because I was owning up to all the stuff I had done and asking for forgiveness. For me, hearing the priest tell me that God has forgiven me was a big deal. One of my friends had told me before I did it that it was a beautiful sacrament and she was right. The sacraments are beautiful and holy, they change the person who partakes of them.

When I first started the confession, I was nervous and worried that the priest would hate me and not want me at church anymore. But at the moments I dared look at him when I was confessing, I saw understanding, maybe even sympathy, on his face. The priest didn’t judge me for what I had done, what he did was assure me of God’s forgiveness which for me is a big thing. I came to the confession nervous and apprehensive, and I left the confession happy and free. I had admitted to God what I had done and been given forgiveness. He asked me if I would return now to the Lord and I said that I will. For me that was the biggest deal in the whole confession. I made a confession because I had decided that I wanted to return to the Lord.

I’m so excited to be where I’m now at. I’m really thankful that God didn’t give up on me and that God continued to pursue me. I’m thankful that God took me on a spiritual journey that has ended up at the Episcopal Church. I never in my wildest dreams would ever have thought of my journey leading me to where I’m now at. I haven’t always enjoyed the journey here but I am thankful for it because it lead me to where I’m at now. I thank God for the Episcopal Church, I have found my faith home and community.

Cheap Imitations

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I dipped my fingers in the holy water and made the sign of the cross, like I’d observed other people doing but had never done for myself until today. I don’t want to copy the things that everyone does in worship without understanding what they mean. I’ve come to the Episcopal Church in part because I craved the ritual. Right now we are in the season of Epiphany and to be totally honest Epiphany is something that I really have no idea about. It’s one of those things that we didn’t do in evangelical or fundamentalist churches. The next season in the church year is Lent, which I started observing on my own for the last two years but really wanted to observe it with others, in community.

I feel vulnerable. Growing up in fundamentalism meant that I was able to navigate my way around both fundamental and evangelical churches, I understood the lingo, and I could at least fake walking the walk. But the Episcopal Church is so different and I don’t know the history or the lingo or why people do what they do. I want to ask questions but I feel like an idiot so sometimes I don’t ask even though I really want to know. I’ve often said that my faith is supposed to make me uncomfortable, and right now this is uncomfortable for me because I have no idea what’s going on. I don’t like not having a clue what’s going on.

Last year I craved ashes on Ash Wednesday but didn’t know of anywhere that I could get them and I thought that maybe I was beyond repentance and redemption anyway for having messed with witchcraft and reading tarot cards and using crystals. I thought that maybe I’d gone too far this time and was no longer worthy of God’s grace. But as the song by Matt Redman says: God’s grace finds me. I’ve noticed something that I really like in the Episcopal Church and that is the themes of grace and mercy through the sacraments. It’s so beautiful.

Today I participated in another sacrament, Reconciliation of a Penitent (in less fancy words, confession). The sacraments are beautiful and sacred and holy, well actually maybe except for marriage I’m still wondering why that is even a sacrament because it sucks but I’m probably not wanting it to be a sacrament just because I wasn’t very good at it. The more I participate in the sacraments the more I see how protestant churches have cheapened the sacraments, offering a mere imitation of the real thing. Protestant churches don’t do confession, you can pray a prayer to re-dedicate your life to Christ but like I said that’s a cheap imitation.

I’m realizing that my whole life I have made do with the mere shell of what the sacraments had to offer because protestant churches are afraid of being seen as Catholic and so they claim they don’t do any of that stuff but they came up with their own imitations. I’m thankful that I’m finally experiencing the real deal, because it is the only thing that has kept my faith alive and hopefully now it will thrive.

Why Episcopal?

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One of the biggest questions I’ve heard lately is “why did you choose the Episcopal Church?” The answer to that question is complicated but I usually say that it’s because I’m too liberal to be Roman Catholic. While it’s true that I’m far too liberal to be Catholic, that’s not the reason I chose the Episcopal Church. I had studied worship for a project in college and had come to the conclusion that I needed to add some elements of liturgy to my own worship. I was attending a large church with an awesome praise band and lots of people who wore trendy clothes, and for a few years that was where I was at and what I needed.

However, I began to think about Catholicism and Orthodox churches because they were some of the most ancient churches and I realized that they were probably much closer to how a New Testament church was supposed to be because they were that old that they would know. Realizing that Catholicism wouldn’t work for me and knowing there was enough of the little I knew about Orthodox Christians, I started to look at the Episcopal and Lutheran Church. To be honest the real reason I first chose this specific Episcopal Church was because I knew how to get there.

Just like I had felt years ago in the large contemporary church, the first Sunday in the Episcopal Church I knew I was home. This was where I was supposed to be. I had craved  communion more than once a quarter and I’d even tried to buy wine glasses and wine so that I could make communion at home, but it didn’t feel that special doing it all by myself, but I craved it bad enough that I was desperate. Several times recently I’ve heard the accusation that “the Episcopal Church isn’t Biblical” but I would have to say that no church is completely Biblical but that the Episcopal/Catholic/Orthodox churches are probably much closer to what the church was supposed to be like because of their age.

No church is going to be completely Biblical, no church is going to be perfect, no  church is going to be the right one for everyone, but for me, I’ve found a home, a community where I can flourish, and that’s what it’s about. That’s why I’ve come to the Episcopal Church.

Grace in Sacraments

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I’m doing a lot of reading and thinking about sacraments and I’m really regretting not following God’s lead a whole lot earlier; because I had desired to attend the Episcopal church for months before I ever did it, and I had my reasons but the longer I held off the more miserable I got because I knew I was purposely keeping myself from what my soul was craving in order not to hurt any feelings. As I experience the liturgy and partake of the Eucharist every week, it has transformed me, and it can do that because it’s Jesus and Jesus is in the transforming business, it’s the whole point. The more sacraments I partake of, the more I see a common theme, and that theme is grace.

I haven’t kept it a secret that for a while last year, because of all the stuff that had happened to me, my faith was on the line. And for a while I just stopped functioning when it came to faith. I stopped reading the Bible, stopped praying, and stopped listening to Christian music. I did go to church and I was still open to hearing from God but I wasn’t making any effort. Through my research for school and personal research I felt God calling me to something different, something liturgical, but I was scared and lazy and so I held off. I came to the Eucharist spiritually hungry, not really understanding what I was partaking of even though I’d been taking communion my whole life (once a quarter, with Welch’s grape juice in disposable shot glasses and tiny little wafers that I took from a tray that was either passed in front of me or on a table that I walked up to). Communion with the whole church drinking wine from the same communal cup shows that we are in community, that none of us are alone, we are in this thing together. Also, you kind of need community to have communion.

Now I go to church every week because I’m hungry. I really have no clue what I think about a lot of God stuff right now, I’m very much a seeker, but I know that the communion, the body and blood of Jesus, the bread and the wine, it’s feeding me and nourishing me. The more I eat, the more I become spiritually alive, and the more I crave of God. I think I’m ready to return to God, because God has shown me grace. I believe in God because I have experienced God, and I believe in Jesus because he changed my life and I’m fed spiritually by him week after week. I believe in the Holy Spirit because something has to get through to this stubborn woman seeking God.

The sacraments are a gift, a gift that ministers the grace of God to everyone who partakes. Every week I kneel in front of an altar where a man I sinned against the first time I met him serves me bread, and it keeps me very well aware that not only does God have a sense of humor but that the priest is ministering grace to a woman who did him wrong. It’s just like God except that God knows all of my sin and yet every week God allows me to partake of Jesus’ body and blood. I keep talking about the Eucharist here, basking in it, because it’s been so life-changing to be in community with other believers who don’t think the same way I do, confessing our sins together, declaring beliefs together, and praying together. Jesus is in the communion, and Jesus continues to be the bread of life to feed the spiritually hungry and he continues to nourish me and now I’m alive enough to return to the God I love.

A Modern Psalm of Confession

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Oh God, I come running back to you.

I’ve been a prodigal,

run away and lived however I wanted to

with little concern for how you wanted me to live.

I was mad at you and blamed you

For all the stuff that happened to me.

The other day I screwed up

and I scared myself

and it brought me back to reality

to know how much I need you.

How I can make one wrong step

and screw my whole life up.

Like Peter, I’ve denied you,

Telling those people in parenting classes last year

That I was pagan.

But I wasn’t pagan,

I was seeking you.

Last night my friend held me while I cried,

I was saying that I’d wandered too far away

but she assured me of your love.

I’ve done so much wrong.

I’ve screwed up so bad.

Can you ever forgive me?

“But Isn’t Mass Boring?”

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I was reading a book for tweens that was about a Jewish girl who decided to try out Catholicism in her quest for authentic spirituality. The book is called “Confessions of a Closet Catholic” by Sarah Barer Littman. Toward the end of the story she’s talking to a rabbi about spirituality, and he says something that I thought was profound even though it happens to be in a fictional story. He says: “To give ordinary, material things a whole new ‘light,’ by using the mitzvahs, or observances, God gave us to bridge the two facets of our soul, the material and the spiritual.”

Since I began attending the Episcopal Church I have had many people ask me how I don’t find the mass boring. They wonder how I could go from a large evangelical church with a modern praise and worship band and up to date communication technology to something as simple as the mass. I don’t find the mass boring because the mass bridges those two facets of the soul that the rabbi talks about in that story, the material and the spiritual. We are spiritually hungry, and God has given us spiritual food. God gives us this spiritual food to remind us of what was needed for our salvation, and God gives us the communion to nourish us. Every week when I partake of the body and the blood of Christ in the bread and the wine, I’ve been fed from the bread of life. My faith gets a little stronger each time I partake of the communion, it had been starving for so long.

I like how in the Episcopal Church, we confess our sins together as a church before taking communion. We also wish each other God’s peace verbally. Those acts make way for the communion, the body and the blood, the sacrifice that was made for us. The act of kneeling in front of a priest as God’s representative is humbling and really helps me to remember the sacredness and the seriousness of what I’m partaking of. In fact, every time I kneel in front of my priest I remember the day before I ever went to church there, where I cursed him out, and for me that speaks the grace of God directly to me. I don’t think the priest ever thinks about that event, but I remember it every time I kneel in front of him for communion, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it reminds me of my humanity and God’s deity.

So for me, mass isn’t boring, it’s what I need to keep myself spiritually fed.