Monday, January 09, 2012

Father Roger and Water

The Baptism of Christ was the theme of yesterday's readings in the Episcopal church, and our new rector Father Roger D Allen meditated on "water."  From water that cleanses in John's Baptism to water that makes a new creation in the Holy Spirit, which parallels the water over which the Spirit of God moves in Genesis I, Father Roger led us to see church itself as a source of that kind of water.

"What are we doing here?" he asked a full house of parishioners.   He ticked off a list of things that church does not do, or does not do primarily:  produce anything that could be measured by people on the street, solve problems, connect people to a club of like-minded people, or administer aid the way Red Cross and United Way do. 

It reminded me of a core chapter in Ronald Rolheiser's book The Holy Longing, which parishioners of St. James' Marietta discussed in a book group some ten years ago.  Glancing again through notes I made in that book, I see some startling correlaries to Father Roger's list of what church is not. It's not a self-help center where individual spiritual growth is the aim, but a merging with God in community (Rolheiser 137).  Rolheiser relates the oil applied to the forehead in baptism to oil used in Hebrew burial rites and observes that "we go to church to help ready each other for death" (134).  Rolheiser takes literally the idea that the church is the body of Christ in the world, the Holy Spirit "with skin on."  He also observes, incidentally, that our desire to "distinguish ourselves" is a sign of immaturity, holding on to the early stage of "individuation" (136).  His emphasis throughout is on commitment, of which Paul is his prime example, when Paul stands up, goes forward, eyes open, seeing nothing (125).

Father Kirk and Father Roger went on to baptize an adult, whose children watched from the front row, and an infant who charmingly went to sleep between the dribbling of water and the consecration by oil.  Children of the congregation came up into the choir area to watch, so that all parishioners could watch the children watching the ceremony.  It was sweet, and, thanks to the preparation, it was an outward and visible sign of something we had been provoked to think about.


George said...

Father Roger's sermon was indeed provocative and powerful, especially, as you note, in his treatment of water, biologically and theologically. At 8:00, he also had us turning to various pages in the BCP, which I found interesting, since a lot of Episcopalians probably don't know much about what's in that vital book other than the usual services.

George said...
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