Monday, April 23, 2007

Swimming Lessons

When Monk first started talking about having a desire to be baptized, last January, he was curious about the process. And he wanted to know how D and I were each baptized. I was baptized (the first time, I admit with some chagrin) in a Methodist church when I was twelve years old. My brother and I were baptized on the same day; he needed to be "done" so he could get confirmed later in the same service. (Clearly our Methodist church hadn't engaged with the liturgical renewal movement yet and didn't know that one does not need to be "confirmed" if you're baptized as a believer. But that's another point altogether.)

So because we were Methodist at the time, I was baptized by pouring--a small amount of water dribbled carefully on my head. I remember my hair was pulled up and back into a bun that morning. And I feel like I can still go back to that moment, the gentle graciousness, almost caress of the water as it trickled through my hair and down along my neck. Ever play the game where someone pretends to break an egg on your head and they run their fingers gently over your head and onto your neck before you squirm away?

When I told Monk about this, he immediately exclaimed: "Can we become Methodists? Can't we get a Methodist pastor to baptize me?" The idea of being dunked under water in our big baptistery felt pretty overwhelming to him. And, in fact, with good reason. It's one sign the Baptists definitely get right.

But we wanted to pay attention to his fear, too. Not just dismiss it or try to simply talk him out of it. There is something to fear in our baptism, I think. Our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ is overwhelming. Even God's grace is overwhelming. If we cozy up to these kinds of things too much, then we have lost something of their meaning.

We knew that the greater part of Monk's fear, though, lay in his increasing discomfort at not being able to swim yet. Although he's had lessons each year since Kindergarten through his public school, they have never been sustained enough to get him comfortable in the water. Last summer would have been the ideal time for us to get him swimming lessons, but we were at a loss about how to do it. We don't have a pool, of course. And we don't belong to a swim club. And, frankly, it's pretty darn cold in this part of the country in July and August.

But sometime over the past year, swimming morphed from a fun thing that he wanted to learn to a frightening thing that felt just plain dangerous. And this danger, it was clear, was represented by the baptismal waters as well.

I shared some of this with my students a month or two ago in our class on baptism. Afterwards, one of my students came up and suggested that we intentionally tie the two together: Give him swimming lessons as his baptism gift. She said that for her, learning to swim was the most empowering thing she felt she'd ever learned to do. Why not link the empowerment of learning to swim with the powerful moment of baptism? The idea seemed brilliant to me.

So classes start tonight. In fact, in a few minutes--so I have to run. But I'll try and write some more later...

Saturday, April 21, 2007


D and Monk left a little while ago to go to Monk's hockey practice. D is officially one of the Assistant Coaches for this next round--last time I think he was just skating with the kids and helping out to be nice. But the organizers of the league have turned it into a more official role. It's a neat thing, really--he's great with the kids and able to help the ones who seem the most uncertain with the whole thing. And I think Monk loves having him out there.

I'm taking the opportunity to have some quiet time on my own at home. Living in such a teeny-tiny apartment makes it quite difficult to ever really be alone and home at the same time! I love my guys dearly. But sometimes it's also nice to be alone, too.

I hope to get some reading done for Tuesday night's class. I can't believe we only have about four sessions left! This semester has flown by and been truly wonderful. And I can't believe that I'll get to do this now for the rest of my life. How I love teaching!

But before I do the reading, I think I'm going to spend some time cleaning up around the apartment. I just wrote to a friend of mine that my least favorite rhythm in life is the Neat-to-Messy-to-Neat rhythm. There seems like there's got to be a way to end the vicious cycle! It is a daily rhythm (messy by the end of the day), the weekly rhythm (a mess by Saturday), the monthly rhythm (too much junk mail and other papers on every surface), and for us a semester rhythm (the later in the semester it is, the more of a wreck the house is in)!

Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that being able to create a comfortable, neat, and beautiful space inside our apartment lends to a sense of peacefulness and creativity that is otherwise squelched in a messy home. In fact, a messy home I think is one of those, as I call them, white-noise stress inducers--like white-noise, below the surface but keeping a low-grade level of stress constantly present.

Lately I have been considering painting one of our walls in the apartment a rich, dark color--something other than the glaring white of apartment living that has been our constant environment for, well, most of our adult lives! I'm tired of white walls! Technically we're not permitted to paint the walls, but I think as long as we're willing to repaint it white again when we move out then we could get away with it. Any advice?

Yesterday I met with my spiritual director and talked about a growing desire to deepen my spiritual "disciplines"--such a strict word for such a gentle practice! As we talked about it, I became aware that I think of four tiers of spiritual practices that seem to be intertwined: daily prayer, spiritual reading (non-academic, inspirational reading such as writings of the mystics, for instance), writing, and making retreats. As I prepare to begin my teaching position this July, I'd like to have all four of these in place--so that I begin in balance. Patterns started early tend to carry through. So it's best to begin the patterns intentionally.

So I suppose I am working on interior spaces right now: the one I live in and the ones within me. I guess that makes sense at a time of major transition such as this. Like "nesting" as a pregnancy nears it's birthing.