Birth/Rebirth: Baptism as Rebirth
Jess is a PhD student in developmental psychology. Her research focuses on moral development in adolescence. She also enjoys teaching in her YSA branch Relief Society. She loves to learn, read, bake, and knit. (spunky’s note: Jess R is very talented, loyal, and smart– plus, she is working on a super awesome research project that you will want read when it is completed.)
I have never given birth, but I have been around babies from the time I can remember. I come from a large extended family (my mom is the third of eleven siblings), and true to our Mormon pioneer roots, there are always a lot of little ones around. As a result, babies and young children are all fascinating to me. Sometimes I feel like I get along better with people under 10 than with other adults. But there is something special about newborns; they bring so much peace and freshness with them. I was reminded of this recently. My aunt recently had a baby girl, and as I held her, I felt so much calm. At the same time there was a sense of excitement and possibility. The whole world lay ahead of this little one!
Is it any wonder that we are told so many times to be as little children are? They are so open and eager to learn. And is it surprising, then, that baptism is so often referred to as being born again?
“Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness,” (Alma 7:14).
I love this scripture, and I love the symbolism of being reborn. Birth is the beginning or start of something, and we are given the chance to start over. We can begin again. That prospect offers a lot of new possibilities. In a way, it facilitates our agency. If we are no longer held back by the past, we are free to choose any future path we want.
I remember having that sense at my own baptism. My memories of being baptized are pretty vague, but that feeling – of possibility and a new chance – is one of the clearest memories I have. It was like I had put away something heavy. But relinquishing our past sins is only the first step in the rebirth of baptism.
I recently went to a Universalist Unitarian winter solstice service. Everyone was given a piece of paper, a pencil, and a candle. We were instructed to write down something we wanted to give up, that was weighing us down and stopping us from being the kind of person we wanted to be. We then filed past a big metal pan where we burned the papers. The fire was then used to light the pastor’s candle and the flame was passed from person to person. As we lit our candles, we were asked to think of something good to replace the negative we had released.
“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.” (Alma 7:24).
Baptism, and the related symbolism of the sacrament, allow us the opportunity to let go of sins, pain, hurt, anguish, that hold us back from being the best version of our selves. But that is not enough. If all you do is relinquish, cleans, and get rid of, you will be left empty and blank. We need to fill that space up with good, light, and warm things; things like faith, hope, charity and loving service to our brothers and sisters.
Rebirth is not the end, and it is not an event. It is the beginning of a new process.