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Anointing with Oil during Baptism Ceremony

This is a personal entry, in the spirit of the “Your Voices, Your Stories” door we open to you each week. I hope my experience will prompt you to share your own stories and reflections.

I’m a melting pot of religious identity: a lapsed Catholic, sometimes agnostic theist, envious of Buddhists, awed naturalist, live-by-the-golden-rule spiritual seeker. I worry that this may be off-putting, but maybe that’s my guilt as a “lapsed” Catholic.

So, this is the identity I brought to the baptism preparation class my husband and I attended a couple months ago at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. I also brought with me the wisdom of Rabbi Sandy Sasso from our spirituality of parenting show:

“Don’t let the people who gave you a bad impression of your religious tradition be the only ones to define it. You, too, are a part of that tradition, and you’re not just a descendant, you are also an ancestor, and you helped to create the future of that tradition. So give it a second chance.”

We were one of five couples who listened to the priest talk about the evolving theology of limbo, the intended role of godparents, and the significance of baptism. One “couple” was actually a Hispanic mother and her five-year-old daughter, whose baptism was required for her to enter St. Rose’s school.

“What is a sacrament?” the priest asked our class. ”A direct touchpoint with God,” I offered, and then unexpectedly choked up. At that moment, I intensely felt how important it was to me to have my son baptized, to give him a spiritual rite of passage in the tradition I was raised in, to allow him to be touched by God. My emotion surprised me, given the frequently confused spiritual state of mind of my own life. I’m still pondering what it means.

That deep emotion surfaced again a few Sundays ago during Owen’s baptism ceremony. It was held after Mass, and was an intimate gathering of the family and friends of the four souls being baptized: two young babies, my squirmy 10-month old, and the wide-eyed Hispanic girl. We formed a circle around the baptismal font and witnessed each pouring of consecrated water, anointing with oil, lighting of candle, and donning of white bib — all the while offering prayers and blessing to children, parents, and godparents. Owen was curious and innocent. I felt the beauty, gravity, comfort, and joy that comes with ritual.

I wrote a card to Owen that day, trying to articulate why I wanted him to have this experience. I mentioned hoping he’ll embrace a spiritual life, whatever it may be or however he defines it, alongside an intellectual, physical, and emotional life. Knowing he would not read it for many years, I wrote that for me spirituality is about recognizing that there is something greater than ourselves, that life is precious and interconnected — things I want him to recognize in his own way one day.

What I focus on as a result of this ritual, a ritual I was a bit conflicted about, is the place of religious traditions in helping us learn how to care for ourselves and others, and in instructing us how to reflect and how to act. In the card, I told my just-baptized son that I hoped this would be the first of many rites of passage for him that will shape his identity and commemorate his growth.

I asked Trent if I could write about this partly so I can keep evaluating the meaning of this experience and not lose it in the busyness of motherhood and work. But I also wanted to write in order to hear about your experiences of approaching and undergoing rites of passage, religious or otherwise, and how you navigated them for yourself or others?

(photo: Brian Brown)


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3 Comments

Thank you for writing this post. It reflects so well the conflict so many of us go through, and continue to go through. Your melting pot of religious identity mirrors my own. My husband and I chose not to have our children baptized, but I can understand so well your choice. The ideas of rituals, either momentous or minute, once in a lifetime or daily, leave their fingerprints on our souls.

Colleen,
I thought this was a beautiful meditation on the resonance of rituals and the conflicted sense of appreciation that many of us feel in regards to our religious traditions. I share many of your feelings here. Thank you so much for taking the time to dive deep into yourself and write this. Also, thank you for all you do for this show. It has been a great source of reflection, blessing and meaning for me- helping me to navigate through complexity and dissonance.

I have always greatly valued that I was raised to choose religion for myself; a chaotic family life framed my childhood with many unpredictable yet brilliant elements present. This was one.

Growing up, I felt free to visit many churches and continue to do so, unafraid of differences to simply share ritual practice in faith community as an adult. I have raised my only child in the same manner, yet, I did baptize her before she turned two. It was to give her roots from which to learn about her own potential to fly. Within the particular religious community that she has developed in a very free way, she has reached young adulthood with a Godfather who has been watching over her development from a respectful distance until she was a teenager. It was during this stage of her development that he had asked his wife to approach me with his request and interest to be her patron as she transitioned out into the broader area of life. As a full-time, single parent, knowing this person, I was very deeply touched my his gesture, and so created a ritualized ceremony in which we all partook in one Easter where they both (after my daughter consented), read what it meant to each one to come into this new relationship with one another. As a senior in college, my daughter enjoys a very rich and independent relationship with her godfather who just turned 92!
As far as religious belonging and identity, in my own family for each of us there is now a choice-centered foundation from which we know we each can continue to chose and continue to renew in our individual ways. It is a soul nurturing that we each are comfortable sharing with one another, again, in our own unique ways.