"On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both heaven and earth.
What sin was there that I had not committed?...Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse...he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins...
Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation...he put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself."
In Search of the Beyond Carlo Carretto
There is something so aseptic about in-church baptisms that the true nature of the event is kind of difficult to grasp. Something is missed in the sterility of the white dress and the tub - be it a sprinkle on the head or a dunk in the tank. But I like this idea, this wonderful imagery, that we have been "washed patiently in the waters of baptism."
It implies a real dirtiness and a gentle persistent cleansing.
I distinctly remember being told multiple times (from the pulpit, etc.) that God can not tolerate my sins. I remember almost verbatim that "my sins produce this really repugnant smell," a stench with which God can not even deign to be in the same room. And honestly, this is pretty true...It certainly seems true according to how I see God's relations with the High Priests and Jews playing out all over the Old Testament. All sorts of this and that about cleansing your self or immediately dying when you enter the Holy Place. This probably has to do with God's stomach and how His deadly gag reflex destroyed those poor Jews - you know, because of the smell and all.
The problem with all this scary "you smell terrible to the One you love the most" stuff is that somewhere along the line I came to believe that Jesus too can't be near me when my soul is dirty and unrepentant. This, my friends, is unequivocally NOT TRUE.
The problem with believing this sneaky little lie is that for years I have been really shy about just coming on in to the Lord's presence knowing I smell like cooked cabbage and burnt hair. Then I started to realize (by grace) that the great saints are those men and women who trusted that they are loved, and not just loved....longed for. That in every room, at every prayer, there sat Jesus - there sits Jesus, waiting to be acknowledged, spoken to. He waits patiently for His love to be reciprocated. And the good news is, He smells so overwhelmingly strong that God can't even smell us anymore. Plus, and here is another bonus, Christ is working really hard to clean us up, as soon as we give him permission. (But he hangs in there even when we are dirty and not particularly permissive yet).
Christ alone has the courage to approach my stinking wounds. To change my bandages and clean my repugnant sores.
"He washed me patiently in the waters of Baptism" - And that isn't a clean, sweet bath given by a lover, but a difficult bath that required literally all of Jesus' life to get us clean. I mean, worse than the kind of gross sponge baths that make you really grateful for nurses.
He washes me so clean and never speaks of my dirtiness because he doesn't remember and doesn't want me to remember either.
"And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" Revelation 7:14
Check out what my thoughts on how to engage your children in the mystery of baptism on my post: Bath Time Baptism