Have you heard? Last September, NASA announced the discovery of water on Mars! My first thought when I heard the news? I’m sure this is where your mind went, too: “When’s the first Martian baptism?” The next logical question, of course, was “What would it take for ME to perform the first baptism on Mars?”
As I was contemplating the brave new world of interstellar baptism a couple of months ago, a book popped up on a Kindle Daily Deal: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? Yes! I cried, as I clicked the “Buy” button. http://www.amazon.com/Would-You-Baptize-Extraterrestrial–box/dp/0804136955/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452437179&sr=8-1&keywords=would+you+baptize+an+extraterrestrial
The book is written by Br. Guy Consolmagno, an American research astronomer and Director of the Vatican Observatory. Can you imagine a more fascinating job? Or a scarier one? Walking that thin line–or is it a great divide?–between science and religion?
Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? looks at the relationship between science and religion through the lenses of several age-old conundrums. “Biblical Genesis or Scientific Big Bang?” “What Was the Star of Bethlehem?” “What Really Happened to Galileo?” I’ll bet Fr. Guy researched that question very well before taking that job at the Vatican.
With Baptism of Jesus Sunday bearing down, I went straight to the final chapter. “Would I baptize an extraterrestrial?” Yes! Absolutely! Then I read the chapter.
The book’s title comes from a reporter’s question. When asked whether or not he’d baptize an extraterrestrial, Br. Guy playfully responds, “Only if she asks!” Then he talks about actually getting to know ET, learning whether she understands what it means to be part of the Kin-dom of God, loving her neighbor, acting the least of these into well-being. Ultimately, Br. Guy says, “It’s not our place to decide whether ET can be a citizen of the Kin-dom of God. It’s our place to treat ET like the least one of Christ’s brothers and sisters, and to live in the hope that ET will treat us likewise.”
So, would I baptize ET? Now, I’m not so sure. J
On the face of it, Would you baptize an Extraterrestrial? sounds like a silly question, completely academic. But the playfulness of the question points to the poignancy of a prior question: What does baptism mean to us?
Br. Guy’s interpretation of baptism being a sign of a commitment to living out the Kin-dom of God—acting the least of these into well-being—resonates well. There is, though, another aspect of baptism that might deepen our insight, an aspect evident in the baptism of an earthling you might have heard of—Jesus.
In all three Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, God’s words to Jesus appear verbatim: “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well-pleased.”
It’s a kind of love the prophet Isaiah expresses well: “But now thus says the Lord, the one who created you, who formed you: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…Because you are precious in my sight…and I love you.” God’s words to God’s people. God’s words to us. Words it’s sometimes hard to believe.
In a recent On Being interview, actor Martin Sheen shared his struggle to feel God’s love.
Raised Catholic, Martin drifted away from church in adulthood. During filming for Apocalypse Now, he got very ill. At the end of filming, not only was his body broken, but his spirit as well. Martin describes the four years between Apocalypse and Gandhi as a time of reflection, alcohol abuse, insecurity, anger, resentment, and a near breakup with [his] family. “I was searching,” he says, “for that elusive thing that all of us search for. Most of the time we’re not even conscious of it, but we’re searching for ourselves in an authentic way. We want to recognize the person we see in the mirror, and embrace that person with all the brokenness, all the things that only we are aware of in the depths of our being.
“That’s what I was offered an opportunity to deal with when I arrived in India in 1981 to do this part in Gandhi. That was the turning point, because I saw a poverty very up-close and personal that I could not have imagined. And it really went to the center of my being and took me out of myself. That’s what changed my life.”
Shortly after completing Gandhi, Martin went to Paris to make another film. Still mired in his spiritual struggle and deeply moved by his reading of The Brothers Karamazov, he wandered into an English-speaking Catholic Church. It was there that he experienced deep conversion. Of that moment, Martin says, “I came back to Catholicism, and it was the single most joyful moment of my life, because I knew that I had come home to myself.”
Interviewer Krista Tippett remarked, “’love’” is a word you use when you talk about that conversion, that experience you had.”
Martin said, “Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe…that despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love.
“You know how, so often, people say — I said it, too — “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us! We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves.” “That’s the genius of God–to dwell where we would least likely look, within the depths of our own being, our own shallowness, our own darkness, our own humanity.
“And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — it’s not something you can earn, or something you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. We become joyful! Then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them. Most of the effort we make is just by living our lives, by being compassionate, and loving, and respectful, and [serving] others. That’s what feeds that love.”
So, yes. If ET walked through our doors, I would want to spend time with her, I would try to treat her with great love. And I would hope that she might come to know—if she didn’t know it already—God’s profound love for her. After that—if she asked—I’d baptize her. J
Back to Fr. Guy. At one point he asks, “What if whatever it is that God loves about us is not something that distinguishes us from the rest of the universe, but rather is something we have in common with the rest of the universe?” “If God is Love, and we are made in God’s image, then perhaps love is, in some sense, the basic stuff of the universe.” “Carl Sagan was famous for pointing out that ‘we are star-stuff.’ But maybe the stars also share in ‘we-stuff.’” “Maybe the stuff we share with the stars is not just (or even primarily) matter and energy, but perhaps something else—like love.” (4391)
Does that not blow your mind? To think that the basic ingredient of the entire universe is love?
I’ve given myself a gift this year: I’m blogging about finding God in color, particularly in the colors in this room. I did a post this week that included several pictures I took here on Wednesday—Epiphany. Sometimes I wish we could all stay here all the time. Just coming on Sunday mornings, you miss some of the prettiness!
One of the qualities of color is that we don’t see it until light hits something. Before our stained glass windows were installed, we only saw light, not even that because we kept the windows covered. But now—because of the stained glass windows—we’re able to see the color that’s been in the air around us all along. When I started thinking about that—this realization that all the colors are all around us all the time—I began to imagine them to be like (or maybe to be) God’s love.
Then I began to think of my work as a preacher. I’m beginning to see myself as a prism. God’s love inhabits every atom of the universe. But like color, no one sees it until God’s light hits something. When I– or anyone else– preaches, we become the thing God’s light hits and folks are able—through us—to get a tiny glimpse of God’s love.
Then as I thought about baptism, about how this ritual immerses us in God’s love, I realized that ALL of us are prisms! Each of us reflects God’s love in our own unique, beautiful way. Is that not amazing? Every single one of us is a beautiful reflection of God’s love!
I know. It’s not always easy to remember that, is it? Traffic is one of those times for me. When I’m stuck on Hwy 92, I don’t want to be God’s reflection. I just want those people to GO!
It’s for those times when we forget about (or willfully ignore) our divine reflectivity that we renew our baptismal vows…because remembering our vows reminds us all over again of just how much the creator of the universe loves us and every created thing.
After a brief moment of reflection, we’ll join together in renewing our baptismal vows, in remembering in this simple ritual God’s deep and abiding love for us. The invitation is open to all—no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, no matter what galaxy you call home, you are welcome here!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016