I was baptized in the Lutheran church. It was in Lancaster, PA, and I was done along with a couple brothers and sisters. The only memory I have of it, the only emotion, was anxiety about getting my head dunked under water. I was not excited about what baptism meant, how things would change, I was only scared of that image in my mind: the pastor holding my head under water. You see, I’ve always been pretty literal, and my mind interprets things, concepts ideas words suggestions, in visual, specific ways. (I’ve become fascinated with how dates appear for me; it’s like a movie scene where a digitized grid appears like a hologram, but for me the grid is a wall calendar and my eye has to scroll through the dates until landing on the appropriate one…..)
To me it’s not surprising that this was my only concern or thought about baptism, because church was not a big thing for me. We went every Sunday, but church just bored me as a kid, in a big way. The idea of putting on uncomfortable clothes and singing and reciting was just about the worst thing you could ask me to do back then. Besides, I didn’t really understand it. Mom said it was a small thing to do , to give an hour a week to God, but I didn’t really get it, I didn’t get what that hour was going to do for anybody, me or God; it just seemed like it was for her. I was probably too young to grasp anything real out of the whole thing, but it’s not like I was given a deep, wholistic, progressive explanation of God, worship, gratitude.
And I don’t mean to diss my folks on this topic: as always, I’ll tell you that I believe they did the best they could, and that they were each a product of their era, their generation. And no pastor or other church official or Sunday-school teacher had anything to say that made it any different.
But ultimately, I did the best I could. I went to church begrudgingly, but I went, and I behaved; I believed the Golden Rule, and I tried to be a good kid and nice person in whatever I was doing. I also prayed at night, although probably I mostly begrudged that as well. But how about a little kid-credit? How much can you expect kids to take to that stuff with joy and ease of understanding? I wanted to play, I wanted Sundays to be family time or fun time, not church or ‘school’; I wanted to read right up to falling asleep, not stop and pray and try to step into some holy state (and perhaps this is the key, which I never got until just now, writing this: as kid, I felt like church and praying and all of the attendant ceremonies were outside of me, and assigned special status. None of this, not even prayer, was simply a part of regular life, it was all separate and therefore it was a disruption. Had prayer been more simply about looking in one’s heart and saying ‘thank you’ to God and the Universe, I might have been able to do that more easily. But I felt like it was all outside of me.)
Praying, as simple as I understand it now, was an odd concept for me back then, but I tried to do it. Perhaps it’s just about my perfectionism, in that if I am going to pray, I better do it right and cover all the bases. At one point when we lived in South FLA mom had us kids say our prayers out loud. I can still recall some of my schtick. I really felt like I needed to pray for all and sundry (perfectionism), that I needed to ask Got to look out for everyone in every situation. I would ask God to watch over the world, and to prevent any death by car accidents, bike accidents and even tricycle accidents. War, disease, famine, these things were lost on me, but I really was on top of the little guy and what happened at home.
One night as I went through my litany (and I think this is an example of my literalness, that if I am going to pray I better pray for everyone and everything, and that I must spell it out for God to get it), yeah one night as I went through this Net and Scott (the older sibs) got to snickering about it all….not that I can blame them for it, but at the time I got pretty hurt and insulted. I was a terribly sensitive kid, and not so great with criticism even when it was presented constructively. The laughing, dang that hurt. It shut me down and my prayers became much more simplified after that. Which actually is fine, because I still did not get it.
Nowadays, as I pray again after a layoff of several decades, I keep it simple. Lots of gratitude. I don’t think I had much of a grasp on the concept of gratitude back then, so I have compassion for the efforts I made, and I can laugh at it now. I do believe that in some things, it doesn’t matter what or how you are taught, you get it when you get it, and sometimes it’s just about life bringing it to you when it does. Thanks for being here.