Will you pray with me?
God, may these words and our meditations flow like your mighty rivers and bring needed refreshment to people who thirst for your Living Waters.
When I was a teenager and working summer jobs in middle Illinois, I worked one hot sticky summer as a waitress at a pizza joint. I remember biking home after closing through the soft Illinois summer night, and heading directly to my parents’ backyard. They were lucky enough to live on a small lake at the edge of town. There, I would peel off the stress of the night and the smell of pizza and head straight for the warm embrace of the water. Under the night sky I would wash away the sweat of the day: the stockroom gossip; the hungry and rude customers; my impatient jumpy manager. I would shed all of that, shed the day, shed myself in the inky black water under the stars.
Being immersed in water has that sort of magical quality of helping us lose ourselves a little bit. It softens our edges. It blurs the boundaries of where our skin ends and the water begins. Moving through the water, our body is there/not there. On land, moving through space, our proprioception – that is, our sense of where our body is in space, – it’s fairly accurate. In general, we know exactly where our left elbow is. In water that gets muddled a bit. It’s as if the water inside us reunites with the waters around us. We know vaguely where our big toe is, but it’s not as precise. Our bodies get mixed up in the water…get mixed up with the water. That sense of blurred boundaries allows us to lose ourselves to the water, to give ourselves up just a little bit.
I wonder if that’s why we seek the water so much. Swimming in the sea, in lakes…soaking in a bathtub at the end of a hard day…visiting a hot springs and dunking in their pools. Wherever humans land we seem to seek out water not just to drink and farm with, but to immerse ourselves in. I’m curious…where is your favorite water immersion spot, or immersion memory? Let’s take a moment to share those in the chat. (listen and respond).
So many delightful places of refuge and relaxation…
And of course, the water we have all swum in was the water in our gestations.
Before any of us were born, before any of us were here, we floated, suspended in the waters of our mother’s wombs. We were in between.
We perhaps represented the most fervent dream of our parents, and yet were intangible: not yet existing and yet so present. We were both our own selves – we had our own heartbeat after all – and yet we were intimately a part of our mothers’ bodies, formed, shaped, and held by her cells. We were invisible to the world, yet fully experienced and known by our mothers. We were not yet something…yet we were no longer nothing. Just like in our immersion experiences we’ve shared, the boundaries of our Selves were blurred in the water of our mother’s wombs.
This softening of ourselves, this boundary blurring aspect of water…I wonder if this is at the heart of baptism.
Prior to Jesus’s baptism, Jesus didn’t do a whole lot as the Jesus we know. In Mark, the gospel we’re reading from today, this is especially true. His baptism is the very first thing we read about him, it’s at the very beginning of the gospel. Mark doesn’t think there’s much worth mentioning prior, except a paragraph or two about John the baptizer’s work and proclamation.
So Jesus arrives on the scene and submerges into the water along with all the others gathered to be baptized by John. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about his childhood or adolescence, so we assume prior to this, Jesus has been acting as a relatively normal human, forging his path through life as we all do.
And then he gets baptized….I wonder if, while in the water, something happens to Jesus. I wonder if something blurs in him in that water, something changes about his understandings of the boundaries of where he ends and where his community, God’s people, God’s call, begins…
I like to think that in that quiet underwater moment, in the womb of the Water, Jesus remembers his original gestation…his original boundaryless existence in God’s embrace within his mother’s womb, where he was both Self and also part of Other. Where he was both aware of his own heart, but where the heartbeat of another was as close to him as his own.
I like to think that the boundary between who Jesus was and who God was, who Jesus was and who Jesus’ community was, got blurred in that womb of water. Softened in the same way that when we swim with another, sometimes we can’t tell whether that is our companion’s leg down there or our own. And when Jesus emerges from the water, for him, those boundaries stay blurred. Jesus carries with him in his ministry this softening of boundaries between his heart and the hearts of others.
I like to think that is what is what happens to all of us in our baptisms. It is a remembering of the blurred lines between us and our community, between us and God.
We use water to remind our bodies about that softening of our Selves that happens in immersion, the immersion that we all began in and the immersions we continue to seek through our lives.
In baptism we allow ourselves to lose ourselves, just a little bit, to being held by the water of God and the water of our community.
Through baptism, we become a part of the body of Christ – a blurred boundary between our body, our Selves, and the gathered collective and church universal.
And in the moment of baptism, God claims us, too, as God’s beloved. And the community claims us as their own.
The boundaries blur. Through baptism, and the womb of water, we are forever ourselves, yes…and yet, we forever belong to the community, and forever belong to God.
I invite us into this remembering each time we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in water: to feel that softening of ourselves, and to join the waters in our bodies with the waters of God’s earth.