13 May 2008

Baptism in the Spirit

At the rise of worship on Sunday, a Quaker elder I admire greatly asked to speak with me for a few minutes.

"At the Worship & Ministry meeting, you spoke of being born again," she started, "What did you mean by that? Did you mean that you had been born again at some time in the past and renounced it? Or did you mean that you're still born again?"

When I was 13, I came forward at an altar call at a Baptist church. The choir sang "O, Lamb of God, I come, I come" and I came to lay my life at the feet of Jesus and to welcome him into my heart as Lord and Saviour. I was baptized by immersion, and I can still remember the grave sweetness on the face of the minister who baptized me.

Had I renounced it? That experience, while not my earliest religious experience, was certainly strong. I felt God's presence deeply throughout that time, and it gave me comfort and courage through my parents' divorce and my own teenaged confusion.

I didn't stick with the Baptist church. We moved, and I joined the Unitarians and then the Pagans. I went with friends to Catholic masses, lived with members of the Hanuman Fellowship and the followers of Yogananda. I hiked extensively in the mountains. I went to Hawaii and watched Kilauea erupt from an ancient Hawaiian village now used as a campground.

Everywhere I went, I saw God. I saw the Divine in what I read and heard, in the faces of other human beings, and in the rocks and the trees and volcanoes. Wherever I went, I have carried that sense of the indwelling Spirit, of my own deep and personal connection with the Divine.

"I didn't renounce it," I said slowly, "the Spirit that moved me then is still here, in my heart. I've seen it in lots of other places since then, though, the same Spirit."

"I think, though, that it's wrong to talk of a single act of salvation. I don't think I changed for once and forever when I answered that altar call. I've come to see it as a practice, a continual need to welcome Spirit into my heart and my life, a continual process of learning to yield myself up to God's service."

I spoke then about my ongoing struggle to live my life fully in the Spirit, to live from that Spirit-led center. Not my will, but Thine. And how difficult it is to do that. And how, a lot of times, I don't want to do that, but to follow my own way.

"I'd be a much better Christian," I mused, "if I wasn't impatient."

"And proud.  And willful. And lazy."

"And sometimes, I just don't believe any of it. 'Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.'"

"But somewhere, deep within, the Spirit keeps bubbling up and renewing me and guiding me and helping me on my way."

So my faith, what I have of it, is a gift. It's not something I can claim credit for. It's not something I do.

I wonder how it happens, that baptism in the Spirit. 

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, although it needs the receptiveness of the person receiving the baptism.

My wife went forward in an altar call decades ago, but she would say, "I'm not a real Christian." She meant that she had not really felt deeply the presence of Christ in her life.

Although a regular attender at church and at a cell group, she steadfastly refused to join the church and receive water baptism. Finally, at a church retreat, she really felt Christ's presence deep within her. She then joined the church and was baptized in water.

At her Baptist church, water baptism is understood as a physical expression of something that has already happened spiritually. Each person water baptized briefly explains how that happened to them.

Friends traditionally have eschewed the physical expression, believing there is "one baptism" that is from the Holy Spirit. The New Testament church, as well as most churches today, however, believe in baptism of the Holy Spirit and also practice water baptism.