Wine and Water

The day of my sister’s baptism, I cried and cried. My parents did not come to pick me up; apparently they forgot that I didn’t have a car and might like a ride. After chewing my nails and hoping they would show up, I hopped on my bike and pedaled frantically down Virginia Avenue. I slipped into the third row of the middle section, beside my aunt and uncle, just as the first hymns were ending. The tears that had started on the bike ride over refused to be stifled. I sniffled and snuffled, wiping my face with my hands and sleeves, trying to convince myself I was fine. What was the big deal? I was late to my sister’s baptism, and my parents had forgotten to pick me up. It was obviously not the end of the world. But all my efforts at self-control were to no avail.

When I was fourteen, all of my friends either had recently been baptized or were preparing to be baptized within the next year. In my ninth grade bible class, we had to stand in front of our peers and say whether we had been baptized yet, and why. I did not like this. I felt pressure, and I did not want to get baptized. I thought we were all too young. Had we even begun to grapple seriously with questions about life, death, God, community, and salvation? I certainly hadn’t. And while I knew that the excuse that I didn’t feel ready would always be with me, I still felt that I was particularly not ready. I wanted to know what I believed before I committed myself to a faith community.

Often I think that I will never know for sure, that baptism is an expression of faith and commitment despite not knowing. But every time I think that I should get baptized, something holds me back. It is the dance of not knowing, of always puzzling and re-examining, that produces the most rich thought about life. What if I commit myself to the church, and feel stifled or boxedin my doctrine and tradition? What if the church doesn’t want what I have to give: an armload of questions, and more in my sock drawer? What if the church isn’t what I need? I need books and mentors and lots of fresh air. I need trees that dapple golden in the sunlight. I need community and vulnerability. Which is not to say that the church is not all of those things. It most certainly is and can be. But it has not been to me.

The church offers answers, and I’m not sure I want those answers. I want the questions, naked and trembling in the wind. I want the untrimmed untrapped essence, blinding bird-song and curling vines and a small feathered body unmoving in the puddle at my feet. If I accept all the answers they give me, am I not just giving up on the most important work of life — that of making meaning? But I fear that if I accept none of the church’s answers, I am giving up on the wisdom and guidance of those who have come before me.

As I sat in church on the day of my sister’s baptism, crying, I felt totally bewildered. Why did I feel such strong pulls in opposite directions: both away from and towards baptism? My younger sister so easily committed herself to baptism, while I agonize over my doubts and questions. On that day, I was baptized into a different kind of relationship with the church. My tears christened my dance of unknowing, of desiring, and yet not feeling at home.

My freshman year of college, I began attending a new church with some of my friends. This church did things differently than I was used to. There were always children running around during the service; almost everyone had a mug of coffee or tea in hand; and the music was usually a simple melody — none of the perfectionistic, choral four-part harmony that I had grown up with. I felt both uncomfortable, because it was so different from my home congregation, and overwhelmingly welcomed, because it was a place where everyone could come as they were.

One Sunday morning my friends and I walked down to the church’s rented space, freshly showered after a long run and giddy with the spring air. We arrived, picked out the hymnals needed that morning, grabbed mugs full of steaming hot coffee, and sat down in a clump. We were two minutes early. Per usual, most of the congregation wasn’t there yet. We chatted and looked around the room as people started coming in. Soon, a woman stood up and walked to the pulpit. She welcomed everyone, then explained that this morning was communion Sunday and that there would be a chance later in the sermon to take the bread and the cup.

My heart thudded.

Communion was a symbol of my outsiderness; it brought up all my conflicting emotions about wanting to belong, and yet not feeling able to commit myself to baptism. Every time a church took communion, I sat with my thoughts as I watched everyone else get up and receive the blessing of belonging. I did not want to feel that here, in this church where I thought I might find a home.

I sat through the hymns, children’s time, and sermon, filled with uncertainty. When thetime to take communion came, the woman announced that everyone was welcome to participate no matter whether they had been baptized or not. I felt a rush of relief. I didn’t have to know what I believed to be welcomed into the kingdom. Then, I began to cry. Tension rose from my gut up to my head as I fought to quell the tears that were coming forth. I didn’t know the people around me very well — I could not cry in front of them. Yet cry I did. I can say with certainty that that day, I felt deeply loved by a community not even my own. They said to me, even you can enter this unfathomable love. Even me? Even me, doubter that I am.

About the Author

Megan Good

Megan Good is a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, where she studies writing. She is happiest when she has dirt under her fingernails and seeds in her pockets. She lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia with her family.