Baptism for the Dead: The blessing of identity

A few months after baptism, when invited to  participate in youth baptisms for the dead at the temple, Lietta asked me about Baptism for the Dead – since I’ve never really expressed to her how I feel about it.

“Did  you do it?”

“Yes,” I replied, “120 times as I recall from youth trips over the years.”

At an earlier time I took a literalist view of the doctrine itself, assuming, I suppose, that Joseph’s inspired grand plan took into account every human being who had ever existed. It made sense. Each would need an opportunity to hear and do as those of us who became mortal after The Restoration are born and exposed to such opportunities mortally.

I frequently pondered the how and with what tools that such a colossal task could be accomplished.

Now, as a recovering literalist, I have a different perception of Baptism for the Dead.  What might it mean to Mormons living today who actively seek to redeem their ancestors in every respect, baptism followed by temple endowment and sealing?

I see it as good … very good … and useful even in the literal sense with which so many enthusiastically have testimonies of temple work pertaining to eternity.

I believe it is good because, like Maximus in Gladiator, who carried in a little pouch images of his parents, there is in a wider aspect our  ancestry, there is identity, linkage and a familial bond that is a blend of blood, emotion and spirit. This when the specific activity of temple work and baptism for the dead is directly connected to the ancestors of the member doing the actual work.

It’s perhaps beyond the gratifying identity of being Mormon by culture. It dwells in the power of bloodline, of knowing whose blood flows through your veins and how you belong to a family line that is part of the tapestry of all of humanity’s blended family lines.

In that regard, it doesn’t matter how many names the believing society encounters and how many baptisms are performed. What matters seems to be what it does to connect those alive today with those who dwell in the past but whose memories are alive today.

That in my opinion is the true blessing of identity.

It is belonging.

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