Reading from the Gospels, Baptism of the Lord, Year A: Matthew 3.13-17
Today I had lunch with a friend who’s down from Minnesota (he claims he’s here for meetings, but I think he’s really just thawing out). David is a Franciscan friar who used to live and work at the San Pedro Center, a retreat and conference center owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. I met David when I was serving in my first pastoral appointment, in a congregation just up the road from Disney World; he’s the one who later opened the door (God bless him) to my becoming the Artist in Residence at San Pedro.
We had made plans to meet at San Pedro today, and I arrived in time to take a short walk on the beautiful grounds. It had been some time since I’d been to this place that had once been such an intimate part of my life; I had even lived there for a wondrous year at the outset of my stint as Artist in Residence. As I walked its landscape today, I found myself thinking that it’s interesting to have lived long enough to have a sense that the arc of my life contains several lifetimes. The Jan who once lived at San Pedro felt like a very long-ago self. She was just beginning the journey to figure out what a life devoted to the intersection of art and writing and faith might look like. And she had a few other Big Life Things to figure out besides. It was intriguing to walk alongside her for a few moments today, to remember the remarkable door she was walking through a decade ago, and to see her, and that landscape, through the eyes of the present Jan.
There wasn’t much ritual involved when I moved to San Pedro (although there was a pair of sandhill cranes standing welcome in the driveway when we pulled the moving truck into the entrance, which felt like some kind of blessing). Years later, though, when I moved out of my position as the Artist in Residence and took up my new role with The Wellspring Studio, it felt like an occasion that needed some ceremonial action. The transition had been a lengthy and convoluted process, in part because it took a while to do the institutional sorting-through of the form that my new ministry would take (that’s another blog post entirely!). With all that past, and quite sufficiently sorted through, it was time to celebrate, and to remember.
One afternoon I gathered at San Pedro with three friends who have been sustaining companions throughout the sometimes complicated and sometimes wondrous (and sometimes both) turnings of my path within and beyond San Pedro. I shared some reflections with them about what I had found in that place, and who I had become because of it. I talked about how I had imagined having some Big Ritual to mark what a huge transition had taken place for me in leaving San Pedro, and what a deep transformation had occurred within me over the course of my years there. But as the day of celebration had approached, I’d realized that I didn’t need a Big Ritual. Having already put copious amounts of energy into getting to this point in my life, I found that I needed a ritual that would be simple. Gathering together, telling some stories, and being in that place: that would be ceremony enough.
And, of course, we had cake.
I’ve been thinking about beginnings and endings and the marking of them as I’ve reflected on the Gospel text that the lectionary invites us to ponder this week. In Matthew 3.13-17, we encounter the story of John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It’s the first time we see the adult Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. As he approaches the river, he is beginning to cross the threshold into his public ministry. Though John sees clearly that there seems to be no cause for Jesus to go through the ritual and confessional cleansing of baptism, there is a deeper need that drives Jesus to seek this sacramental act, this initiation. Jesus understands the power that ritual possesses to mark a beginning, the symbolic way that it blesses and prepares us to move into a new terrain. A new lifetime.
How do you mark the beginnings and endings of the lifetimes that unfold within your life? How would you describe the different selves you’ve been across the years? Did you know when you were passing from one phase of your life into another? Have you gone, or are going through, or are anticipating some change that could benefit from some ritual attention? How might it be to set aside some time, alone or with friends, in order to remember, and to mark the passage, and to name who you have been and who you are becoming?
Whether your ceremonial self enters into a ritual space that is simple or involved, I highly recommend the inclusion of cake.
A blessing upon all your beginnings and endings and beginnings again.
[To use the “Ceremony” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. For all my artwork for the Baptism of the Lord, please see this page. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]