From the Psalter:
My soul cleaves to the dust; give me life according to your word.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 119:25 (BCP Version) – May 7, 2014.)
The Gospel lesson today is the baptism of Jesus as told by Matthew. With it, for the evening, is coupled a portion of Psalm 119 which includes this verse. This image of a soul clinging to the dirt caught my attention. I wonder if baptism is efficacious if the soul being baptized steadfastly and stubbornly “cleaves to the dust” of its pre-baptismal life.
I sometimes wonder about my own baptism, which happened when I was 14 years of age and attending a private, residential high school affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
As part of the religious instruction required of all students, I had taken the confirmation class offered by the chaplain and was, thus, included in the list of young men upon whom the bishop was to lay hands during his official visit at one Thursday evening chapel service. Earlier in the day, going over his records, the chaplain noticed he had not record of my baptism.
That was not surprising since I’d not been baptized. Growing up in a largely unchurched home with a father estranged from the Methodist Church and a mother who’d been reared in (but left) one of those traditions that practice “believers’ baptism,” there had been no encouragement of nor opportunity for baptism.
So, in a hastily arranged private afternoon ceremony at the back of the chapel after gym class, with two members of the faculty standing as sponsors, I was quickly sprinkled and informed that I was now a Christian, eligible to be confirmed as an Episcopalian. That done, I went to my room to shower and dress for dinner and the obviously more important confirmation service later that evening.
What exactly happened that afternoon? Did my soul turn loose of the dust, or did it cleave to the dirt from which it was supposed to be cleansed? Does it matter? I’m not even going to try to answer those questions this morning, but the pairing of the baptismal story and the image of the soul clinging to the dust is certainly an odd lectionary coincidence.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.