“Baptism,” by Abdi Farah
charcoal, dirt, black pigment
I’ve lived to see a sweet day come into fruition; our baby lady twins were baptized over the weekend. I can tell you there was a season of life where I was certain that day would not come, but it has, and I am humbled to report we were witness to it all whilst being surrounded by friends and family and our tribe.
Baptism, regardless of someone’s spiritual background, seems to represent a washing away of impurities. Whether it be Islam, the Bahai faith, Judaism, Islam, Christianity … nearly all faiths recognize a need to be presented as clean, to remove what was making you once impure.
I think baptism is universally seen as a ritual or sacrament that takes away the dirty stuff before you can move forward. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer calls a sacrament “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” I see grace as an undeserved mercy that allows us to be seen apart from our dirt–and not just so we can look clean and purdy.
That’s why I love the piece above by artist and winner of Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” Abdi Farah (right–That’s one super-excited dude.). If you watched the series, you know the assignment was to create a piece of art incorporating some physical aspect of nature. Farah literally drew this figure by incorporating dirt (from the ground) in a mixture of charcoal and black pigment. While he was drawing the image (of himself), the medium continued to break apart and eventually fell to the trough of excess paper at the bottom. Instead of cleaning up the “mess,” Farah chose to leave it there at the bottom of the piece. A reminder?
The result, I believe, is an image that appears to have transcended above the dirt and junk that was once in its very makeup. He’s quite literally risen above it. In my humblest of opinions, I really think seeing what could, in many other contexts, be gross and messy actually makes this a piece of art instead of just a figure drawing.
I also love that there’s a motion to it, as if he’s in the middle of being baptized, or it’s still happening. Like he’s somehow been baptized, continues to be cleansed, and therefore, will never need to be purified again. The act is once and future. Completed and yet continual.
The English/word nerd in me likes to think of it in verb tense, ’cause you know, that’s normal, right? Anywho, for me baptism, as captured in this artwork, is the “perfect” tense, giving the feeling of continuity. Sorta like this:
“I have been married to him for eight years,” vs., “I had been married to him,” or, “I was married to him.” Instead, I continue in the marriage with him. “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” might say, “I am married to him for eight years,” but they would be wrong. In any context they would be wrong. Do you hear me, Danielle Staub? You do not get to make up your own verb tense. If I don’t, then you don’t either, girlfriend.
I won’t get into the whole discussion of what infant baptism means here–I have the sneaking suspicion I would yuck it up for shizzle. What I will say is that in the midst of this incredible celebratory moment when the girls were being baptized, I was also fully aware of my own yuck and dirt and grime … of my ability to hurt someone and my stunningly incredible “gift” for holding on to a grudge when someone has hurt me. Boo.
When I was in middle school, my classmate came up to me and said I had really hurt her feelings. She then promptly turned and walked away in a flourish of tears teaming with a scrunched up expression of betrayal. How do I remember it such detail? Well, because I’ve been reminded of it while spending more than a few years in the presence of adolescence well past my own, and I’d know that expression anywhere and on any young girl.
I was heartbroken. I had clearly done something to offend this girl, but I promise you, I had no idea what it was. Time after time, I tried to find out what I’d done, but she would never tell me. (I think we’re all good now; Facebook can heal a multitude of hurt feelings. Well, that and a couple of decades.)
Just before Y2K and perhaps with a subconscious hint of Nostradamian fear of the new year, a once-dear friend called to tell me she had forgiven me. For what? I asked. She said the “what” wasn’t important; we just needed to move forward in forgiveness. Today, I count myself blessed to have rekindled my friendship with her.
The Bible (I am a Christian, yo) uses the illustration of “70 x 7” as the infinite number of times to forgive someone who has wronged you (Matthew 18:21-22). Normally, I would run in fear of anything that even remotely resembles math, but this equation is A-OK with me. It’s representative of God’s eternal love and infinite forgiveness toward his peeps and (gulp!) the approximate number of times we should turn the other cheek with one another (and no, not in a “kiss my…” kinda way).
Musician Chris August does such an amazing job of openly talking about a painful past that was desperate for his forgiveness in his song “7 x 70.” In full disclosure, the hubs did co-write the title track to August’s debut album No Far Away, but I swear I’d love this song (this record, too) even if he hadn’t. Perhaps what’s so impactful about it is the decision to forgive regardless of what the other person does or doesn’t do to deserve it. Because that kind of forgiveness isn’t dependent upon another person, it can exist in its own time. It’s not waiting around for someone else to get their junk together, because folks, that could take a very long time indeed. Like never.
I’m so thankful for fresh starts and forgiveness that I have no right to, but is extended toward me anyway. I can’t earn it. I can’t necessarily make it right, and maybe the numerous ways I’ve screwed up don’t matter as much as the moving on forgiveness can provide. By the grace of God I receive it, and by the grace of God I aim to impart it.
Because I needs it, yo. I really do.
Still, I don’t want to forget about the yuck that’s coming off of me. There’s beauty in that process. In fact, it’s the best thing I’ve got goin’ on.