Archive for ‘baptism’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

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New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2010/02/24

Baptism

It was my first Sunday singing in the choir, and I did pray on the way to church that worship would flood my very being that morning.  I prayed that I would be an agent to help others come into that place of reverence and awe before the God of the universe.  Then I hit the parking lot of the church.

“Where did all these cars come from?” I wondered aloud to my daughter in the back seat.  “Really!” she quipped back.  We had not seen the parking lot this full since before the holidays.  I found a spot behind the deserted police station beside our church’s lot and gathered my bag holding my non-shiny black shoes.  My snow boots would not be proper attire for underneath my robe, so on a plus note, I was at least that prepared.

We hustled to the door and to the warmth of the inside.  Emma was dragging behind a bit, and I turned to see if she needed help since I was leaving her in the dust.  She still had her headphones on.  “Sweetheart, you need to take those off before we go inside,” I reminded.

“OK, mom.”

We passed Sunday Schoolers in the hallway and headed upstairs.  I just needed to find a robe and gather my music.  First robe, too short.  Second robe, too long.  Third robe, juuussst right.  All robed up and ready to go with non-shiny shoes on feet, I inadvertently interrupted a meeting in the choir room, and hid out with the music library out of sight until it was over.

During our warm up which had been cut short by fifteen minutes by the meeting, thoughts raced around in my noggin.  I needed to check with someone on where to sit and other particulars I had no idea about for the service.  Though I had been in the congregation and watched the choir numerous times, I was not familiar enough with the routine to be confident that I could do everything seamlessly.  It was definitely going to be different sitting on the other side of the altar.

As service got started and we were a couple of numbers in, I felt that my grand plan for being an agent of worship was a bit unrealized so far.  With all of the busyness of my getting acclimated, I hadn’t had time to breathe, much less relax into the rhythms of worship.

The sermon and the service centered on baptism: first Jesus’ and then our own.  The minister talked about how we now often view this act with calm formality, but that historically baptism came from a plunging, an immersion below the surface of a body of water.  At its core, the act of baptism is an act of vulnerability and surrender.

The minister told a story of how a boy had drowned and died while a dozen or so adults that witnessed him falling and struggling in the water did little to help.  See, the water was very dirty and had been infected by a local industrial plant up the way.  They did not want to risk their own lives in such disgusting liquid even to save a helpless child.

That brought back my own memory from a few years ago.  It was a summer party—adults were chatting, kids were swimming.  I was settling into a chair when I noticed that little Benjamin was having trouble in the shallow end.  You could tell he was on his tip-toes working hard on the logistics of keeping his head above water.  But there were taller kids all around, oblivious to his struggle.  These kids inadvertently were splashing around him and making the situation worse.

I managed to get some of the kids’ attentions and asked them to watch out for him.  They helped him back to a more shallow depth, and I went on with my conversation with whoever was sitting nearby.  But a minute or two later, I noticed Benjamin was back to that same spot as before, and that now he was taking on some water.  He had gotten in just a little too deep.  I hollered to the children around him so that someone could grab him and move him back to safety.  No one heard me.

I only let a few more seconds pass before I jumped in.  Usually people do not jump into a pool in their clothes unless the party has gotten really good, so needless to say, my act disrupted things quite a bit.  Benjamin was safe and the host led me to get dried off and into some borrowed clothes.

When I returned to the party, I was of course asked to tell the story over and over.  Though his parents were very thankful, I could see in some of the other guest’s eyes that they thought my choice to jump in and “save” Benjamin was a little dramatic.  With so many people around, they didn’t see how my heroic measures were necessary.  “He would have been fine,” they thought.

But they didn’t see what I saw. They didn’t see Benjamin swallowing water instead of air.  They didn’t see how he really didn’t know what to do, much less how to fight to get back into safe territory. They didn’t witness the panic in Benjamin’s eyes, the true terror of knowing he was not in control of the situation, and how helpless he was for those few seconds.

How often in our lives, do we have those moments too?  Many times and in many seasons, though a crowd of strangers or our closest family is around us, no one but Jesus sees the real panic in our hearts.  Because he made us, only he can feel with a true purity and clarity what we are facing and battling in the water.  Sometimes we feel utterly beneath the water, hopeless and helpless, terror in our eyes.

But Jesus jumps right in.  He’s not afraid of the muck in the water, even if we are the very polluters that made it so dirty.  He’s not afraid of tragedy that befalls us.  He’s not afraid of our ridiculous, poor sin-choices.  He’s happy to be right there with all of that.

And so today, I re-affirmed my baptism while others were being baptized for the very first time.  But more than that, I remembered that God did not send a professional crew, or a messenger, or a paid agent, to rescue me from treacherous sin and hopelessness.  Rather, he sent himself to be with me and to save me.  With an award-winning cannon ball splash, he enters in and turns the liquid around me from filthy sludge to living water the moment I invite him in.  Amen.