Friday, March 4, 2016


I got baptized on a Friday night in the late spring of my 12th year.  During the vespers service a half dozen of my fifth grade classmates and I were shepherded to a warren-like area behind the church’s baptistry, where we were each handed a white cotton robe and assigned to separate cubicles to undress and put on our robe.  Then, following a series of prayers, one by one we waded into the warm, waist-deep water of the baptistry pool, where an associate pastor, also decked out in a robe, was standing waiting for us. 
When my turn came, he held a washcloth over my face, braced my back with his right hand, and rocked me back into the water.  It was over in a matter of seconds.  I waded out the other side, returned to my cubicle, hurriedly dried off, and got dressed in my secondhand suit, white shirt, and clip-on tie.  Then I joined my now baptized friends in one of the polished oak pews at the front of the church’s auditorium, where we listened to the pastor praise us for the step we had taken.

Somehow the experience in the pool had changed me.  The air was cool on my still drying skin and I felt wonderful.  In short, I felt cleansed, both physically and spiritually.  

In my 11-year-old mind I had given this a good deal of thought.  Baptism meant that I was like a newborn.  True, I could always get my sins forgiven by earnestly asking God in prayer, but somehow it wasn’t the same.  To me it was like the difference between trying to clean a blackboard with just an eraser and replacing the board completely with a pristine new one.

I looked down the row of classmates and said to myself, I am absolutely sinless.  And in that moment I made a promise to God never to sin again for the rest of my life.  Ambitious, yes, but at that moment I considered myself in total control.  

It was then that I noticed that Jimmy, sitting next to me on my right, had his left hand up to his eyes.  “Jimmy,“ I whispered, “what’s wrong,” thinking he might have something in his eye.  Instead of responding, Jimmy turned away from me, keeping his hand to his face.  

Then I realized: Jimmy’s eyes were closed in prayer.  I had not been paying attention and had missed the fact that the pastor was leading the congregation in prayer.  In prayer we were obligated to close our eyes.  To keep them open was a sin.  It hadn’t been five minutes and I had already broken my vow.

Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless.

© 2016 John M. Phillips


  1. So many ways to sin - the list is endless. So many ways to be dependent, to be enslaved by guilt.

  2. When you were baptized, you came up out of the water with a "new birth" in Christ. This is my faith.

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