Paths (Part 52: The Shower Before the Bath)

In the late winter of 2016 as my baptism was approaching, my mother’s health had declined to the point that my sisters and I accepted the help of hospice care, with the understanding that she likely wouldn’t live much longer. In fact, one nurse suggested during my visit in February that I should certainly plan to return again before Easter because she didn’t think our mom would survive more than another month or so.  I had grappled with the sorrowful inevitability of death before, with the deaths of my father, brother and step-father, all people very important to me, but the looming probability of my mother’s imminent death shook me more deeply. Though I knew Jesus should be the true cornerstone and foundation of my life, the reality was that up to that point in my life, my mom was these things for me, so the thought of losing her was an existential threat to me psychologically; it was profoundly difficult to imagine myself living, if she wasn’t alive.

Providing hope and a bulwark against the backdrop of this impending loss was my faith, and more particularly the expectation of my coming baptism and entry into the Orthodox Church. I saw my baptism as an inoculation in a way, or a homeopathic remedy to my sorrow, so to speak, because baptism is also a death, the death of who we have been as we are made new in Christ, and so, by this death I could be healed of death, and in a sense death could be put to death by the very mechanism of my death in Christ. I mean that the death of my mom, and my own inevitable death, could lose its sting, lose its power over me, and thereby in a sense be put to death, through baptism, or death in Christ. The reason for this of course, is the hope we gain from the other aspect of baptism—that by it we are joined to Christ, who has conquered death by way of His resurrection, and by the reality of His life after death, to which we also gain entry.

We are told to prepare for the Kingdom of God by repentance. Though our part is negligible in the economy of salvation, still we have things we are told to do and repentance is one of the main things. Turning from our old life of sin, turning towards a new life of virtue and of following the gospel commands, renouncing the things of our old life and proclaiming allegiance to our Lord, casting off the shades of darkness and putting on garments of light, allowing ourselves to be given an inner light that shines for all to see; these are the things of repentance and of baptism, and these things are to become a way of life for a Christian, not something done once and then forgotten, but something done daily and forever. Repentance is at the heart of Baptism and it is also the essence of the other great mystery known as Confession; which is required for the first time, just prior to Baptism and entry to the church. It is the opportunity to jettison all the sin, all the shame of the past, to throw it overboard once and for all, to bring it to the light and let Christ dissolve it, overcome it and purify it in his perfect light. The night before my baptism I met with Father John at the church and had my first confession, a full life confession which was my opportunity to repent of everything I had ever done or thought, voluntarily or involuntarily, with knowledge or in ignorance throughout my entire life up to this point. What a horror but what a joy it was, what a supreme shame and yet also what a magnificent relief, what flow of tears of mingled sorrow and contentment. It was the shower before the bath.

The following day I would be baptized, on Pascha of 2016, and I had just taken the first step by my Confession. It was the beginning of a new journey. About this new path I wrote the following:

Preparing for the journey;

traveling light.

You won’t need those things,

where you’re going.

And you can’t take them with you.

Can you squeeze the world

through a pinhole?

And if you could,

what use would it be to you,

in your new home?

Pull up what you have hidden,

under the floorboards—

throw them all overboard.

You’re a traveling light now;

traveling light.

Goodbye to darkness,

all your shadows disappear,

dissolving into brightness,

total victory over fear.

Perfect light,

contains no darkness.

Perfect love,

contains no weight.

Death in Christ—

means traveling light.

You are a traveling light now.

So travel light.

It is common to be afraid to bring shameful things to the light, because of fear of rebuke, of losing face, or being derided, or feeling accused; but there is nothing any of us have done that isn’t common to man, and by bringing everything to the light and repenting of everything we not only achieve our own freedom from the power it had over us, but we make the path easier for others to do the same and to find their own freedom, which is an act of love.

(to be continued)

~FS

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