I was not baptised as a baby, and I did not grow up in a Christian home. When I sought to become a Christian, I first sought to get baptised. I didn’t really think about what would come after that. I mean I did, but I had no idea how to picture it (I pictured it with me being a lot less doubtful and sinful than I really am) and I was driven forward by the desire to become something I knew I wasn’t.
Having been baptised and chrismated, am I now a Christian? I am going to say – n0… sort of.
Well, one thing I didn’t really think about is that to be a Christian is not just to believe in this or that (to affirm that Christ rose from the dead). Ceirtainly without that there is a sort of emptiness to it, but that is not it. To be a Christian is to live in a particular manner – to pray, to live in the sacramental life of the Church, to give to the poor, to support the weak, to resist evil, trust in God – and do all that in a very mundane, everyday way. In a sense to live as a Christian requires fully “re-enchanting” the mundane universe in which the atheist me was brought up in. It means the discovery of the meaning of the word “sacred” and the sacralisation of life itself.
Which is great and all, certainly sounds great – but… well, how do you live like that? Everyone brought up in a Christian home, even from very dubious denominations, has a pattern of life which to a greater or lesser extent models that form of life. For sure some more than others, but I have no such pattern of life. I have no model to base it on – except things looked on from afar, or romantic idealisms promoted for various purposes, or the images in old films perhaps. If I happen on one day to wake up with the grace of gratitude to God for the joy of life and the morning, I have no way, no pattern on which to express such a feeling – and trying to create my own patterns feels in this weak, uncertain stage of my Christian life – feels dangerous and distancing, like a 2 year old trying to create its own language instead of speaking the language of it’s parents.
I have no parents, well I have biological parents, and I also have godparents – but they are each on other sides of the country from me, and they would not serve the role I need them for. Because parents live with their children, they in the beginning guide their children every moment of the day, until their children are used to days and used to nights and so need less guidance.
In order to become a Christian I need someone to tell me what to do. I can’t deal with suggestions, I can’t deal with simply seeing things from afar. Suggest something and I will find every cowardly excuse not to do it, I don’t want people to get the idea I am a “try hard” – even if I’d very much like to be. Let no-one mistake me for one of those dreadful people who attempts to be pious! Let me be gruff and rude and weak, it’s much more comfortable and it doesn’t offend people half so much. As for things seen from afar – I don’t even know if I am allowed to do those. Might they not be reserved for people who are better than me, or from some other culture, or whose parents made them do it when they were children? Those things cannot be for the likes of me…
I am not used to days or nights as a Christian, left to my own devices I will simply revert to days and nights as a nihilist – because I know how to do those very well indeed. This is a difficult dilemma in our culture because most movement goes in the other direction… from Christianity to nihilism (usually via some variant of humanism). I wonder if people going in that direction find it as awkward as this one. But they have the whole country to model themselves on…