Denise, sponsors and the Sunday Assembly community gather at the baptismal font for Denise's baptism (photo by Sandy Wojtal-Weber)

Baptism—homeward bound

Denise West, OSBFar from home, Living in Community 12 Comments

The last time I blogged, my mind was focused on all that I’m losing as I transition back to New York-the community, the setting and my daily experiences. I’m still keenly aware of these things. As I go through my daily routine I’m checking off a mental list of lasts. Last time to work outside on the grounds with Paul; last chapter meeting; leading prayer for the last time.

To my relief, now I’m also thinking about firsts, and the ways I’ve been enriched by this six-month journey. I have new spiritual relationships, new friends, a wonderful monastery where I’ll always feel welcomed, spiritual teachings and practices to continue on my own and share with my church community in New York. And for the first time, I am ready to be baptized.

For years, the thought of baptism filled me with fear. What if I proclaimed my faith in front of everyone but later down the road when life was comfortable, I stopped going to church or I discovered that I didn’t truly believe authentically after all?  I imagined discarding my spiritual practices like an unused gym membership. I couldn’t bear the possibility.

Denise, sponsors and the Sunday Assembly community gather at the baptismal font for Denise's baptism

Denise, sponsors and the Sunday Assembly community gather at the baptismal font for Denise’s baptism (photo by Sandy Wojtal-Weber)

In the time I’ve lived in community here those fears have dissipated. I discovered that I was ready to make the commitment. I realized that living a life of faith, aiming to give up my desires of ego satisfaction in order to serve God and serve others, is my heart’s desire.

Cue the music…Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.

Yes, I may run away from God, but:

If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast. Psalm 139

Among the gifts I’m taking with me are spiritual practices that will lead me back to God when I’ve wandered afarlectio divina, centering prayer and daily reading.  This community imparted wisdom, knowledge and Benedictine valuesthe necessity for both community and solitude, communication practices, tools for self-exploration and self-knowledge. I know so much more now about liturgy and how ritual shapes our experience of connection to ourselves and to each other. Many seasons of the Christian calendar such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent and Holy Week have more meaning to me. My understanding of what it means to be baptized is much richer. To me right now, the most important thing is that it means choosing to accept the gift that is freely given from God, choosing to say, “Yes, I am a beloved child of God.”  And as a child of God, I now know that I will always have a home, our only home, no matter where I go.

At a certain point recently, amidst the tears that appeared whenever I contemplated my departure, I realized, I’m clinging. If I keep holding on so tightly in fear of losing everything I love here, I won’t be free to receive the gift being offered. I have to loosen my grip and open my hands so I can receive the gift of unearned love. Let go.

Soaring arches of the Sanctuary of Riverside Church, New York City

Sanctuary, Riverside Church, New York City

I don’t know what the future holds; it’s a mystery for now. But I know I won’t be walking my path alone. I’m forever grateful to the Benedictine Women of Madison for your openness, generosity and wisdom; to Paz for sojourning with me; and to all the communities of Holy Wisdom Monastery for your love and support. You will always be in my heart.

If you’re ever in New York City, please look me up so I can extend some Benedictine hospitality to you.






Comments 12

  1. I Was so sorry I had to mss this beautiful liturgy and baptism. I wanted to be there. I am sorry too that I never really got to know Denise as is would have liked to. Time just went too fast. Denise, I Pray for you as you go back to your new life In Jesus. I am excited for your future and hope you will keep in touch. You are a remarkable person. I will hold good thoughts for you and hope we meet again. Joyce Wodka

    1. Thank you, Joyce. I enjoyed the time we did spend together and trust that we’ll have opportunities to meet again at the monastery in days to come. All my best to you!


  2. I will look you up for sure. Are there many Denise West in New York? I imagine there are…. But there aren’t many places like Riverside… I suspect I’ll find you there doing something… Maybe selling apples (and/or juice)… Many blessings yet to unfold… Thank God you loosens your grip! Thank you for giving so much to all of us… Your share here says it all…back at you

    1. Christine, just ask Lynne how to find me! I’ll truly be looking forward to seeing you there. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you, sharing lectio, and enjoying the space together. I’m confident our paths will cross again!
      Peace and blessings,

  3. Dear Denise,
    Congratulations on your decision to be Baptized! I so look forward to hearing all about it as well as about your time away. You sound so peace-full.
    So, let’s try to get together before 4/19. If not, early July.

  4. It was such a gift and a joy to participate in the beauty of your baptism ceremony. You are a treasure and will be missed, but you have so much to give and share. Blessings and safe travels, my friend.

  5. Thanks, Jan! We will definitely be seeing each other soon. No way are you heading off on your camino pilgrimage without a big hug and blessing from me! See you soon! xoxo

  6. Denise, the time is flying by so quickly I can’t keep up! Your time away seems like it just began yesterday. But all of our life rhythms seem to really be moving! Congratulations on your Baptism! Your journey is incredible!

  7. Thanks, Richard! It’s very strange to be back in my apartment. I so appreciate your reading and commenting all these months and hope all is well in Memphis.

    1. Denise, it’s been kind of crazy adjusting to new routines. I owe everybody some sort of contact. But I’m plodding through and making new neural pathways of thinking and being. I promise to write very soon. I can’t wait to hear your experiences!

  8. Hi Denise,
    I am so glad for your coming to HWM, your openness to the Holy Spirit, and thankful that we were able to cross paths meaningfully the times we did. As I proceed, with renewed vim, vigor, and vitality (and a spirit grounded coach) in my personal de cluttering project, I am learning about the very essential nature of ‘letting go’ on many levels in order to ‘let God’ work on all levels of my life. I hope to see you in NYC at some future point in time. God’s peace and love, Marian Wasierski, OblSB.

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