(this is the second in an eight-week series of blog posts on The Way of Love)
The seven practices of The Way of Love are presented in a circular shape suggesting that there is no appropriate place to begin their practice, and no defined ending, either. The Way of Love, it turns out, is not a linear exercise, but a fluid process that invites us to work through, experience, and dwell in the seven different practices over and over again, back and forth, as the Spirit calls us, to be strengthened in the Lord and to grow in the mind of Christ.
The idea of turning, though, signals an intentionality on our part to “claim the high calling” or, at least, to put ourselves in the way of God and say, “Here am I.”
Most of us did not choose the moment in which we were put in front of God and invited to “turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as (our) Savior.” (BCP 302) In the Episcopal tradition, we practice infant baptism, and so it was our parents and godparents who chose our initial welcoming into the Christian tradition, often at an age that precludes our remembering the big event. I know that to be true in my case; as an infant, I was tucked into a fine linen dress with both petticoat and lace overlay, white woolen jacket and bonnet, tiny satin slippers, and brought to church, presented to the minister by my mother and father, with my Aunt Audrey, my godmother, standing by to pledge my life to God as a follower of Jesus, graced with the Holy Spirit.
In the early church, the common practice was to baptize adults. In the first chapter of the bookBaptism and Infant Baptism from the New Testament through Barth http://www.augsburgfortress.org/media/downloads/9780800699994Chapter1.pdf we read this explanation of the first part of the baptismal ritual as practiced in the 2ndcentury CE:
The baptizand faced west- symbolic of desert and darkness where Satan holds sway- stretched forth her hand and, “as in the presence of Satan,” renounced him. Then the baptizand turned to face east– symbolic of light since the sun rises in the east- and confessed, “I believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and in one Baptism of repentance” (1.9). The preparatory rites were not yet finished, however, and the baptizands next stripped—symbolic of putting away one’s past and also imitative of Christ, who was stripped on the cross—and were anointed (2.2–3). This initial anointing was performed “with exorcised oil,” and by it those anointed were “made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ” (2.3). Following this anointing, the baptizands were taken to the baptismal pool and immersed three times. For Cyril, this triple immersion symbolizes participation in Christ’s death—he spent three days in the tomb—and resurrection. The water of baptism is thus the place of death and life, or “at once [our] grave and [our] mother,” as Cyril puts it (2.4). Next, the second anointing or chrism completed transformation into the image of Christ. The baptizand had already died and been raised with Christ, and what remained was for her to receive the same Spirit by which Christ was anointed. (bold type mine)
I love the physical turningof the candidate towards the east- towards light and the sun, and a redeemed life. I love the intentionality of it. The kinesthetic choice, reflecting the inner, spiritual choice to turn to Jesus and to claim a different way. To turn, to Jesus- It is a powerful, physical symbol.
You all know that I do a lot of driving. Miles and miles, across our diocese- sometimes multiple hundreds of miles in a week. In the practice of good driving and good road etiquette, I make the practice of using my turn signal- all of the time. I signal my intention to move from one lane to another- for the purposes of passing a slower moving vehicle, or to tuck back into the flow of traffic in the right-hand traveling lane. It drives me crazy when people choose not to use their own turn signals- to me, it indicates a lack of awareness of others, and sends a message of superiority or arrogance, and a disrespect for others in the same space. When we use our turn signals, it shows that we have an awareness of others around us, of the fact that we are part of a community and that our choices influence the experience of others. When we use our turn signals, we signal a shift- in our own orientation, and in relationship to others.
When we turn to Jesus Christ in baptism, we turn with an intentionality to claim our place in community, in relationship with other Christians, and in relationship to God.
We Turn, and Turn, and Turn again.
My daily spiritual practice includes reading Morning Prayer in the big leather armchair in the corner of our living room, just before the sun comes up. I light a candle on the coffee table, pour a cup of coffee, make room for one of the cats who insists on joining me every morning, and turn on the computer. (www.missionstclare.orgis a great resource that includes all of the readings pasted right into the service and also includes commentary on the saints’ day, if it is one, and the occasional hymn recording.)
Early on in the liturgy of Morning Prayer, is the confession and absolution. In these words, we admit our shortcomings to God, borne of our human condition, our intentional and unintentional transgressions, and our desire for forgiveness. Then, in the sentence of absolution, we are redeemed. Again and again and again. Morning after morning after morning. There is something very powerful to me about beginning my day this way. I claim my humanity, give voice to my failings, and ask for mercy. I am assured of my belovedness, and given God’s love to carry on. Each day, I choose this practice. Each day, I turn to Christ. Each day, in this morning ritual, I turn on my spiritual turn signal, and find my place in the continuum of Christians through the ages.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Each day, we get the chance, to do it- over and over and over- to turn… and, in the turning, to join a community of the ages, to draw closer to God, and to be redeemed.