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Baptismal Awareness

Life is hard. It is full of contradictions that we have a very hard time dealing with:

  • We are alive and yet we will die.
  • We are powerful, and yet vulnerable
  • We are capable yet have limits

Human beings experience much anxiety about life-as-it-is. This anxiety is so hard to bear, that we need affirmation that life is worth living to be able to go on living. We often look to our larger culture for this affirmation: to be affirmed that our lives are ideal enough, as described by the culture, to be worth living. But that is the rub: "as described by the culture." In receiving this affirmation from culture we bargain away some of our freedom.

It is this bargain that leads people to participate in activities that they don't really like - that are not really true to who we are. We can become so wrapped up in the affirmation we get from culture that we lose ourselves, we lose each other, we lose the earth, and we lose God. Human beings are especially vulnerable to the notion that we are most human when we are powerful. Since we can't be ultimately powerful over life, death, and limits we seek to be powerful over one another. This leads us to create, quite unconsciously, domination cultures.

Let's talk more deeply about how this happens.

The Christian notion of sin can be understood as a gut-level rejection of life with these contradictions.  But just because we reject them at this gut-level, doesn't mean these contradictions go away. Human beings flip back and forth from these extremes both internally and in our relationships. One minute we feel powerful, the next we feel vulnerable. If you watch yourself, you will see this dynamic happening in taking place in seconds. If you watch how you act with other people, you will see it taking place. One minute you feel the other person has more power than you while in the next you try to gain power over them.

This is called the teeter-totter of dominance and submission. We imagine that there can only be dominant or submissive roles. Over time the teeter-totter that results from the human tendency to reject life-as-it-is create a series of relationships that are unequal, exploitative, and not very fun.

In other words, we have to work hard to integrate all of these contradictions into our life.

To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way . . . but to be a human—not a type of human, but the human God creates in us.  - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus wants to free us up to be the human God creates in us:

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. - Luke 9:23

Jesus intends for his disciples to daily embrace the contradictions of life, and to engage the anxiety they create in us, so that we become more able to bear them. In the midst of this embrace and engagement with these contradictions and our anxiety about them, we find ourselves embraced by the God beyond our idea of God (Tillich).

This is what we mean by the term "baptismal awareness." In baptismal awareness we practice embracing life-as-it-is, including all these painful contradictions, engaging our anxiety about them and learning that our lives are embraced by God. In baptismal awareness we are invited off the teeter-totter of dominance and submission into mutuality.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul speaks of baptism as a daily death and resurrection - it is an embrace and engagement with life and death, capacity and limits, and so on. What he means by daily baptism is not a once-a-day vitamin of simply acknowledging that one day we were baptized, but rather a moment-by-moment awareness of holding these contradictions together - of learning to integrate them into our conscious life.

The spiritual practices of the ancient church, including baptism, Eucharist, prayer, fasting, community life and worship, are ways to practice baptismal awareness.