Healing through Baptisms

59942741_10100712620455120_868906746230341632_nJennifer Roach is a mental health therapist who lives with her family in the suburbs of Seattle. She converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January 2019.

I get touched in the Temple. A lot.

I’m a new convert. Baptized 4 months ago. But I am no stranger to faith. I grew up in the mainstream Christian church.  I loved being in church. I was there every time the doors were open, which was not nearly enough for me. I loved the Bible, sermons, singing. I gave my entire life to all of it. Most of the jobs I have had as an adult were in mainstream Churches. My undergraduate degree is from a Christian college, followed by a Masters in Divinity, and then another master’s in counseling. I am a religious, church-going woman to my core.

But I was also completely gutted at church. One of my pastors sexually abused me. When the truth came out, the church looked the other way.  It protected and comforted him, not me. Google my name if you want the details. It’s in black and white on the front page of the newspaper.

Now, all these years later as a new convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I go to the Temple.  Right now I can only go to the baptistry.  I joke frequently that down in the baptismal it’s me, the eleven-year-olds (who sometimes can’t quite keep their faces above water) and their proud parents.  But that’s actually not quite right. There are men there. Religious men. Priesthood men. And if I want to be baptized, I must enter into a very specific dance with one of them, previously a stranger to me.  I have no Priesthood holder in my family. I am the only one who is a member of the church. So I have to rely on a willing man, who just happens to be there at the same time as me, to baptize me.

And mostly, they are willing to help. Though a few are not. Those men demure with a, “I’m in a hurry today.” I smile graciously and wait for another candidate who might be willing to help. I try to not feel the sting of rejection. And inevitably a priesthood holder who is not too busy that day is willing to help. But I don’t pick them, they are just available.

Whoever performs the ordinance will touch me, hold me underwater, bring me back up. 20 times over.

There is a lot of touching.

All men baptize differently. The words are the same, the motion is the same, but there are vast differences between how each one performs the ordinance, how each one touches me. One man, an older Hispanic man with leathery skin and a thick accent, told me that he had never baptized anyone before. He was a convert of just a year. He agreed to baptized me, but said I would have to show him what to do. Some men are quick and efficient – they say the words quickly, push my body under the water and bring it back up with such forcefulness that I feel dizzy. Others, have the lightest touch and I feel like I am practically doing all the work myself. Some stand very close, some try to be six feet away. But they all have to touch me.

After the baptisms are done, I go to change. Enclosed within the Temple walls, deep with in the basement, I am cold, wet, naked, alone. I feel every bit of this vulnerability. Everything inside my body screams that I am not safe. That there are religious men nearby and that I know full well what it is like to be harmed by them.  My history of being touched by religious men is not good.

In dry clothes I emerge from the changing room and find myself in an impossibly small room for confirmations. More touching. But the same pattern. Some men place their hands on my head as if I were a china doll about to break. They barely make contact with me and it makes me wonder why. Others place their hands on the top of my head confidently and with much tenderness. Sometimes a stray finger touches the skin on my forehead, instead of just the top of my head. And oddly, I find myself comforted by this. I sit up taller and press my head into his hands and he presses back. And I feel the weight of his hands as the words of the ordinance fly by.

None of these men, these priests, know my history. But somehow, they are all healing me.All of them, with their many styles, are doing the same thing. Touching appropriately.

Each one of us is bring our individual history of touching to the baptismal moment.  Even the men who are “in too big a hurry” may be bringing their own history of touching to their decision not to touch. The man who rush-pushes me underwater and brings me up with such force that I have to catch my breath is coming to that moment with his own history, just like me. The man who won’t look me in the eye and can barely touch me is bringing his history too.

And somehow, in the waters of baptism, and in moments of bringing the Holy Spirit, I have to believe, we are healing each other.

Comments

  1. Tears. Unbidden. I think it’s “they are healing me.” Not everybody can or will feel the same. I have a moment of joy knowing that someone can make it so. Thank you.

  2. I am moved by this. I am heartened.

  3. Priesthood means acting as Jesus would act, doing what He would. I have been privileged to baptize and confirm Temple patrons. I try to be respectful; it is hard to focus on another’s comfort and sense of well-being when my performance is being evaluated—it’s like being onstage. But the same sense of healing comes to me in the Temple.

    It pulls me out of my selfish mode. Jesus would be giving, not taking, and it utterly humanizes the people I officiate with. I also think about those who have died on the other side, witnessing work being done for them, and it doubles the solemnity of the experience.

    I’ve never heard of anyone refusing to baptize anybody; when I volunteer, I stay in the water and they come to me in the order they lined up.

    I’m glad to hear you are having positive experiences in the Temple, and not surprised. It gets better the longer we stay with it. Many thanks for the insight into the patron’s side things.

  4. Another Roy says:

    Thank you for sharing. I agree that appropriate touching can be healing. I also agree that it is something that we (as well meaning, non-creepy humans) can be really awkward about. I love that these ordinances provide you with many experiences of appropriate touching with very defined and expected parameters. I also love that you feel relatively safe within the walls of the temple. I honestly believe that you are as safe there from unwanted and inappropriate touching as you could be anywhere.

  5. demosgen says:

    Thank you. This was very moving.

  6. Wonderful post.
    As to your question as to why some barely touch the top of your head, as if you’re a china doll; it’s because we don’t want your neck to get sore. I remeber being the proxy for Confirmations, and the brethren performing the ordinance must have thought that it’s more effective if they pressed down onto my head with all of their strength. When that ordeal was over I determined to make sure that I’m not going to be hurting anyone’s neck when performing Confirmations. Sometimes it means that when I have my hands on someones head, I’m pulling up with all of my strength against the weight of the hands on top of mine. Blessings and Confirmations should not produce neck injuries.

  7. Katie M. says:

    What a well-written piece.

  8. Thank you, Jennifer. This did not go where I was afraid it might. There is healing in your words.

  9. God bless you and keep you. Such a lovely meditation on the healing power of the temple.

  10. Jennifer, this is so wonderful, so sacred and inspiring. My prayer is that we can all press forward in healing our hurts, comforting those in need of comfort. I rejoice in the contact required by the touching of bodies, the corporeal acts that bind us together in healing, fostering unity rather than taking advantage. Again, this is sacred, we are so glad you are here.

  11. I’m sorry at the misery inflicted upon you. Thanks for sharing part of your story and for persevering in faith.

  12. Thank you for this. When I have officiated in the temple, I always try to be cognizant of touch. There’s a reason that all of the ordinances require some form of physical contact, even if it’s sharing a metal tray bearing the symbols of his torn flesh.

    As a former therapist specializing in treating domestic abuse, I’m hyper aware of proximity and touch. I try to be thoughtful, not too fast, but reverent, present, mindful. But I’m very aware that my actions are interpreted through someone else’s experience. My hope is that my actions reflect the love and thoughtfulness of the Savior. I’m grateful that there are patrons like you who interpret them that way.

  13. Thank you for sharing this, and congratulations on your recent baptism! I’ve definitely felt that awkwardness, not knowing where to place my hands on somebody’s head, or how lightly or heavily to place them. I think about it in the temple as well. This post has given me a lot to think about with respect to the idea of the laying on of hands that we emphasize so much.

  14. Wow. May heaven bless you.

  15. LatterDayLiberty says:

    Congratulations on your baptism. I am so glad that you have found healing in the ordinances of the temple!

  16. Thank you for this — a really enriching perspective. I remember reading your story in the news. Very sorry to learn of what happened to you in the past. Congratulations on your baptism!

  17. Dave B. says:

    What an encouraging post, in light of all the difficult and troubling posts one reads on such issues. And, to be honest, it’s encouraging to know people (informed people, good people, regular people) still join the LDS Church.

  18. Recently baptized my wife for her grandmother and other relatives. Then since I was there I stayed in the font for about 100 more names and five or six other women. I was not used to that. But someone had taught me years ago to slow down when doing such work. So I try to go at a respectful pace and be mindful if the person standing as a proxy needs a moment. I also change up the cadence regularly. I don’t know that every soul I do the work for cares, but I want to be cognizant that some presumably do. Many have been dead for generations, and this might be the first time someone in mortality has addressed them in nearly as long.

    Thank you for writing this. Just doing the work matters. So much better than a day at the office, so to speak, at least for me, a software consultant. Hearing that it can be healing is touching to know.

  19. Thank you all for the kind comments. Being a convert is difficult in so many ways, but I have experienced so much grace and kindness from long-time members. I feel taken in and cared for in all the best ways.

  20. This is beautiful and very touching. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Well worth the read. I always enjoy the perspective of those who come to the faith as an adult.

  22. Thanks for sharing this perspective–it is beautiful.

  23. God bless you.