I recently went to my nephew’s baptism in Terceira, Azores. I have been to a number of baptisms in my life, but they’re mostly “that’s just what you do” kinds of events. I expressed surprise when the preparations seemed to be getting bigger and bigger leading up to the event by saying: “you just dip the kid in the water and you go home, right? No big deal?” Yeah, cringe along with me now, but I was indeed dumb enough to say something that insensitive.
Turns out I was wrong. Very wrong. Baptisms are of utmost importance in Terceira. The celebration spans at least two days and involves dozens and dozens of cousins and mothers (and others). Everyone at the event was dressed to the nines and intensely nervous about everything going exactly right.
Granted, I shaped up when I realized how important this event was to people around me, and went on my best behavior as well. However, the intensity was not contagious, so I found my attention wandering and taking in the ambience during the baptism ceremony and service.
They weren’t the hymns I was used to, though, because I never heard “Blowin’ in the Wind” in church before. They definitely changed the words, too, because I don’t remember either “Sounds of Silence” referencing Jesus Christ or the Lamb of God, but hey, they get poetic license. Plus they were cute in their Escuteiro outfits.
The baptism itself was lovely, and the priest clearly enjoyed what he was doing, and adored baby Tiago. Baby Tiago appeared to approve as well, making no noise throughout the whole thing. He appeared to hate his shoes, though kicking them off at every opportunity.
During photo time, half a dozen adults were constantly making silly faces and snapping and making noises to get Tiago to look in the right direction for all the photos, which Tiago’s main concern was figuring out how to kick off his shoes yet again.
They were aghast. How could such a thing happen? That idea is unthinkable here; everyone is part of the Catholic Church, because that’s all that exists on the island. Ergo, you get baptized, take catechism classes, go to your first communion, and grow up with the church. Additionally, in Terceira, almost everyone stays physically close by, and contact with godparents is daily or at least weekly.
I was not brought up religious, and never felt it as a lack. I would go with friends sometimes, and my parents always said: “well, if we went to church, we’d go to that one down [Protestant one] the street.”
Sometimes I get myself into trouble at churches, like with my “dip the kid” comment above. Because the rituals were not part of my daily life growing up, I forget how important they are to other people, how nourishing, how comforting and how meaning-making. But when I screw up, I pay attention to the ripples it causes, and use it to learn to be a better, more respectful person.
As an adult, I do go to church sometimes, though honestly it’s mostly so I can sing, and I change denominations depending on where I want to sing. For example, I joined a Presbyterian church in college because they asked me to sing and helped me pay tuition, and liked the church so much I never left.
A year or so later my dad started showing up, and then another couple years later my grandma started singing with them, too. Just your usual generational translation of church attendance, right? Not. I do like to do things my own way. In this case, backwards.
Not at all.
If I can believe in Santa Clause, Shamanic Journeying and the Easter Bunny [true], what’s to stop me from believing in different religions? I believe in and identify with Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Buddhism, Wiccanism, Taoism, Atheism and Agnosticism.
I believe in and identify with any religion or belief system that espouses goodness at its core. My capacity for belief frequently confuses people, but believing in all those things at once doesn’t bother me one whit, even when they directly contradict each other.
Call me crazy. You certainly won’t be the first or the last. But belief is a core piece of my identity, and one that I hold dear.
And I believe that’s okay.
P.s. All photos are courtesy of Carla Guerra, AKA The Photographer (pictured in the last photo)