This past Sunday at St. Verena, we baptized five people; three adults and two infants. Chanting, “worthy, worthy, worthy is (name) the Christian,” got me thinking.
It got me thinking about how much we often forget that God, and the Church, see us as worthy. Nothing is more detrimental to a person’s spiritual life than the toxic shame that breeds the idea that God doesn’t love them anymore because of sin. Fr. David Fontes says in his book In the Eyes of the Creator (2015), “God has never stopped valuing and loving us, but our disorder of sin has obscured or covered that knowledge within our hearts. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, human beings have carried this inner doubt concerning their own sense of personal value. The problem is that humans have, for the most part, tried to regain their sense of personal value in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.” We constantly are searching for our value and worth outside of God. We try to find it in careers, jobs, education, hobbies, relationships, friendships, even in our very own spiritual practices. We must confront ourselves and our inner voice that “our real value does not come from our self-efforts, but is a gift from God Himself. It comes from the One who envisioned us before the foundation of the world to be His very own children. We regain our true sense of personal value when we unite ourselves with the One who gave us our value to begin with” (Fontes, 2015).
We so often get caught up in doing things in such a black-and-white, all-or-nothing way that we forget that Christ and the Church gave us spiritual practices as a means to God, not ends in and of themselves. Praying is a means of communicating with God. Fasting is a means of clearing my mind and body, which leads to the means of reading Scripture to hear God’s voice. Even the mysteries (sacraments) that the Church has are a means of communing with Him. One of my pet peeves is when we treat the mysteries (sacraments) as if they’re magic, or even any other spiritual practice for that matter. “God is a personal God and wants to commune with us personally and experientially. How do we begin to know in our heart how much we are truly valued in the eyes of our Creator? It starts with our turning back and uniting ourselves to God. It happens when we begin to see with the heart that our true-self is the image of God. The Baptism of water and Spirit opens the doors to this possibility when entered into with intent and honest faith” (Fontes, 2015).
Maybe most of us have been baptized as infants, but this does not pardon us from living with intent and honest faith. It does not pardon us from genuinely making the intentional decision to live our Orthodox faith. During the Coptic rite of Holy Baptism, the priest, while consecrating the water, prays that the water and oil may be for the washing of the new birth, unto eternal life, a garment of incorruption, a grace of sonship, and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Then the priest prays something beautiful, “that those who shall be baptized therein may take off the old man that is incorruptible according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man which is renewed once again after the image of his Creator.”
In his book, The Voice of the Heart (2014), Chip Dodd shares how the reality of toxic shame is this rejection of truly internalizing in our hearts that we are in His image and likeness. Healthy shame, on the other hand, allows us to see ourselves as weak and limited beings. This is why Baptism is a means and not something “you do” or “works.” The Holy Spirit transforms you in a tangible way that has us die with Christ and rise with Him. Healthy shame allows us to see that we need these means, that we need the Church and everything she has prescribed to us, such as the mysteries and spiritual practices. True humility is rooted in healthy shame, that we are limited and need God. So we surrender to Him through the mysteries and spiritual practices. It is not we who make ourselves worthy but the inherent worth that God loves us with; therefore, “we love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NKJV).
Dodd, C. (2014). The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living. BookBaby. https://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=5870661
Fontes, D. (2015). In the Eyes of Your Creator: Truly Valuing Yourself and Others. Ancient Faith Publishing.