One of the tools that I have gained in therapy is something called a feelings wheel, and if you are looking for someone to point you to ways to connect with a therapist, I will gladly do so because many of us have never lived through times of traumatic national or global events while facing debilitating isolation like we are doing on a daily basis right now, and it’s good to get help.
The feelings wheel is a multi-colored circle, cut into pie shapes. The way the feelings wheel works is that you start in the center, where there are broad categories of emotions: happy, sad, angry, bad, surprised. Once that broad category is set, you move to the next concentric layer where the words get more nuanced: stressed, peaceful, disappointed. And then there is a third layer with words that might allow a more precise labeling of one’s emotions: valued, disillusioned, abandoned, courageous. Even though I consider myself to be pretty emotionally intelligent, this tool has been so helpful, particularly when everything feels so overwhelming that to put words around it seems impossible.
I’ve returned to this tool several times throughout this week, because, and I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s been an overwhelming week. On Wednesday when the mob overtook the Capitol building, I immediately felt my body dump adrenalin into my system and felt the urge to do something while being unable to do anything. Later that evening, I turned to the feelings wheel. I realized that I felt nearly every emotion on that wheel except for the ones in the happy slice, but the predominate one was anger. I felt angry at so many things, and you might have been there, too, or maybe you still are.
I’ve wrestled throughout this week with my varied and abundant emotions, and I’ve been so grateful to return again and again to this passage in Mark, because today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and in this passage after John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open and Jesus’s belovedness is pronounced. I’ve been so grateful for this familiar and important text this week, as well as for the knowledge that later in the service we will reaffirm our baptismal vows, because my friends, I needed to spend some time in prayer remembering not only what happens in our baptism, but also what our baptism invites us to do. As I waded through all the anger and the fear of this week, it has been remembering my baptism that has helped me get through.
Baptism calls to repentance and repentance forces us to do two things: the first is to recognize that we carry with us the very image of God upon our souls, that we are indeed beloved, and second, it requires us to engage with and to overcome the evil that exists in our world. Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, days after a horrific moment in our history, we hear how God spoke of Jesus’ belovedness moments after his baptism and trust that when the Holy Spirit descended upon you in that same moment in your life, that you, too, carry that belovedness. Resting in that belovedness is not an identity that comes without cost because in it we must also face and renounce evil when we see it. The horror of the attack on the Capitol building on Wednesday was just a portion of the evil at work, because those weren’t just nameless people who took part in it, but they were beloved children of God, too. Evil rarely exists in a vacuum, ready for us to pack it up, put a label on it and send it far away. White supremacy, misogyny, entitlement, rage, and a thirst for violence, all these evils that we saw that day aren’t just labels that we can name, but they are evils that infect our hearts, many times in ways that we aren’t even aware of until something wakes us up.
In a lot of ways, the call of our baptism is an impossible task; all the things we promised to do, we do so by affirming that we will with God’s help, noting that we certainly can’t do it alone. But the beauty of this statement of affirmation is that we never, ever, say it in a lone voice. When we affirm our baptismal covenant, we do it with the voices of our youngest members to our oldest, each of us giving voice to all the ways in which we have failed to live into who are made to be, as well as to the hope that we carry into the coming days. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says that baptism is, “a kind of restoration of what it is to be truly human. To be baptized is to recover the humanity that God first intended.” Today, we don’t just remember Jesus’ baptism, or our own, no, instead, in a few minutes when we will reaffirm our baptismal covenant, we will remember our belovedness; we will remember who God has always created us to be. In the dark days after a tragedy, as we swim through our own confusion and anger and fear, it can be so very hard to remember who we are, but today we remember.
On Friday, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, delivered a word to the church. In it he addressed this week’s events and how we as the church might respond, and he speaks of his own baptismal call, saying,
I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.
He goes on to name that though it might sound idealistic, or naïve, he implores us as a community of faith to consider the alternative. To consider the alternative that we have seen play out again and again and again, in Charlottesville, in Minneapolis, and this past week, at the Capitol.
Our faith is one of community and connection. Anger, while I have felt it often this week, never unites us, and if held dearly to our souls it only works to drive us apart. Consider the alternative, because no hope lies ahead without community. God did not create us so that we might live in fear or hold tightly to our anger, but I also want you to hear me say that equally as true is that our fear and anger are valid; they might need some space, and it’s okay if you aren’t yet ready, but if you are there, I encourage you to hold it lightly, and consider the alternative, because today we remember.
We remember that God continues to call us to community in the promises we make in our baptism. Today we remember that it is only together that we can have the courage and the strength to live into the promises of this covenant. Today we remember and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ and reaffirm our renunciation of evil, not just evil that plays across our screens, but the evils that have taken refuge, even in our own heart. Today we remember our baptism. Today we remember that we have been baptized just as our Lord was baptized. And, when we find ourselves in chaos, we remember that only together, only in this community of faith, can we have the courage to choose to walk bravely in this world by walking this way of love.
 Williams, Rowan. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 2014.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY via livestream on January 10, 2021 for the Feast of the Baptism Our Lord.