Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Washing her clean

So I am going to start linking up to this group and writing at least one piece per week. This week's assignment:

the red dress club:: Red Writing Hood: "Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece - fiction or non-fiction - inspired by one or both of these statements ..."


I never intended to baptize my child. As a little girl, I myself never really believed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the way Sister Celestine expected me to in second grade. And yet I found myself there, in the church where my parents were married, where I was baptized, where I received my first communion, where I was dragged to countless holy day masses by the teachers who thought that I might end up in hell anyway.

I was there holding my beautiful baby girl, surrounded by people who believed in this whole thing so much more than I did, looking around at the breathtaking stained glass depictions of saints whose names I did not remember and the giant hanging crucifix with the bleeding guy hanging there making me feel guilty.

My mother insisted that we do this because if you are a Catholic you believe that babies who are not baptized cannot get into heaven, which always struck me as unjust and kind of absurd because that would imply that a rapist who says sorry and was baptized has a better shot at it than this little creature who had yet to utter one word that would imply an understanding of the ways people can hurt one another.

My brother was there. He and his wife made the trip from Florida because I had to choose someone to be the Godparents. The Godparents are supposed to be the people who would give the child the best Christian upbringing if she lost her parents and since they were married and happy and stable I thought they’d be the best choice, but I can’t imagine that they’d ever love her like I did.

The priest asked that we hold her on her back with her head over marble fountain of water and he read some passages and said something about washing all our sins away, which according to the Church is necessary if she wants to get to heaven since she was born of sin (her father and I are not married). Then he poured a couple of drops of water over her head, which startled her a little because it was cold but she didn’t really seem to mind. She was too engrossed in the whirling fans that gently moved the air at least 50 feet above her.

I wanted this to be a meaningful experience for me. I wanted to feel some kind of blessing or reverence for this whole ceremony. But I remember nothing but being resentful to an angry God who I didn’t really believe should punish her for the sins of the rest of us. She would have plenty of time to learn about the savage nature of people before having to choose which path she would walk down. I thought about some of what the priest said about how the water ensures her eternal life and cleanses her eternal soul. But what did any of this really mean anyway? Wouldn’t I just turn her cynical and faithless like my upbringing had turned me? What if she used religion as a crutch to perpetrate awful despicable deeds like so many other so-called “Christians” did throughout history and even today? What if she denounced God altogether and was content to live this life and have it be over when she died? Who would cleanse her soul then? Or would it even matter?


  1. I think this is why I have felt a certain sort of disdain for the Catholic version of religion. Too many rules that seem inconsequential, but assigned a hellbound train for a single violation. That and I lived across the street from the Catholic church in the small town I grew up in, and the biggest assholes went there to be all pious for 2 hours before returning to their hateful ways.

  2. I like your thoughts on this one. I wasn't baptized myself. My grandmother believed that I had the right to make the choice about religion when I was old enough to understand and make the decision myself.

    It's all really just symbolic and your daughter will never remember. Unfortunately, for you it will be a painful memory.

  3. I LOVE your writing style. Filled with lots of layers of detail. Great post.

  4. I also share your views on this. Freaking LOVE your blog! The background reminds me of a book I heard of: Mother on Fire, The True Motherfucking Story of Parenting.

  5. This was very interesting to read, not being Catholic. I loved your description. I could totally imagine being in the church with you.

  6. One: I couldn't agree more with your perspective.
    Two: it takes some balls to put this in writing. Well done.
    Three: please don't show this to my mother, I CANNOT have this conversation with her.

    Great way to interpret the prompt.

  7. Yours was Sister Celestine – mine was Sister Annunciata :)

    The story is riveting – but I want more – write more. By the way I’m not Catholic – but love God like Crazy – and a baby goes to heaven – water or not. Until our minds are developed enough to choose evil over good – then we can start thinking about it – but a baby - I’m with you. Still I want a part two f this story. {smile}

    God Bless and Keep (in the nice kind of way not the religious-y kind of way)

  8. We told our Catholic family that we'd had our son baptized by the hospital chaplain.

    Had they had their way, we would have been in the same position.

    You write with admirable courage and I like your style, your voice.

  9. I'm sorry you were pressured into this. I'm not a church goer myself.
    This was well written, your frustration and anger were there.
    And she won't remember. She will find the faith of her heart. When she is ready.

  10. Interesting post. I'm glad to see something different for a change. I'm not religious but was brought up in a southern baptist family. Ugh. That's probably why I'm not religious. My sons are grown and they seem just fine....not heathens at all. Well, at least not anything they're willing to admit to their Mom.
    Nicely done. Hope to see you on TRDC again.

  11. Wow. I really liked your take on this prompt. You brought up so many questions and shared so much frustration.

  12. This is my life! I have done this 3 times because of my husbands side of the family. I just don't get it. I am not a religious person and definitly have issues with the Catholic church. I guess whats done is done now. All we can do is teach our children to be good people and think for themselves, coming up with their own opinions.

    Great post, thanks for writing it. I know I'm not the only one that feels this way now :)

  13. I love your honesty in sharing this experience. There is just so much hurt in all religions. The sad thing I find about it all is that religion is all about what man can do, how good man can be, how much man can follow rules, and how much self-satisfaction and self-righteousness man can have because he thinks he's good. The reason why I was drawn to christianity, not as a religion and list of do's/don'ts, but as a very intimate relationship with God, is because I was fed up with the hypocrisy of it all. Only in the Bible have I ever heard any message about no man ever being truly "good" by his own efforts. It actually felt freeing -- not because I felt that I could do whatever I wanted with no regard, but because it took my eyes off the brokenness of people and instead focused it on the hope of what God promised through Jesus. It sounds so hokey in words, and not having been born in a Christian home, it sounds even more ridiculous. But that is how much God has impacted my heart in a really wonderful way, that I could sincerely mean that. People suck. I suck. But that's how I realized I needed something greater than people or myself. I wish you hadn't experienced what you did at that Catholic baptism. You know, even Jesus said very clearly that baptism is an outward expression of what is in the heart, but it doesn't take the place of the "true baptism" when a person's heart comes to believe wholeheartedly. It doesn't do the saving. I believe in a cleansing of sins, but it's not done by the hand of man from some bowl of tap water. Anyways, all this to say that I'm so SO sorry you experienced such ugliness. And sorry so long!

  14. I really liked your take on this post. For one, I totally agree with your feelings of "why is this necessary?" but also, I felt there, in the moment too. I am not religious and I find it VERY brave for you to post about this. It's not something I'm brave enough to put on paper for all the backlash I feel I will experience because of it. Great job.

  15. I certainly don't want to come off like this was a terrible experience. I grew up Catholic and if I was REALLY against it I wouldn't have done it. I suppose it was just that I felt that my personal view of "why does this matter" was not as strong as my desire to make my own mother happy.

    And as for the "backlash" and the crap that I will get from my mother if she ever reads this, my mother HATES that I have a blog called "Because Motherhood Sucks". She is not on the web and yet she hears second hand that I complain about my kid all the time and call her an asshole and say I hate being a mother. She thinks it makes me look like a terrible parent. But I know that I am a wonderful mother and that I take my frustration out HERE rather than on my kid. I used to write about my insane drunk extended family and was shamed into not doing that by her. I will not compromise myself on this blog.

  16. Such a fascinating take on what some people consider a necessity. I have to admit, I felt compelled and had both my boys baptized (we're Episcopalian), not out of desire to have them raised in the church, but out of obligation and flat out "what if?" I absolutely do believe in Heaven and Hell, but who goes where for what reason is definitely a gray area for me.

    Great food for thought. Love your sassiness :)

  17. Am reading via TRDC and just wanted to say I loved the honesty and courage in this post. I too felt conflicted about getting my little ones baptized since I still have issues with God and why my mom had to die. But that's another story. Loved your style and your tone. look forward to more.


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