It’s Always About the Water
In the heartland of America, there is a city with a central plaza and a fountain filled with larger-than-life birds made of bronze: thirty-five Canada Geese rising from the pool, their wings splashing on the water. A few geese have escaped the pool and have flown through the glass walls of a bank, to take up residence inside the atrium. Across the street, another one is half-way through a stone façade, its head inside, tail feathers and feet outside. Bronze and stainless-steel flash across the plaza, the sculptures a clear presence, with a message and purpose, the vision of an artist.
Two hundred miles to the southwest, half a million sandhill cranes stop every spring along an eighty-mile stretch of the Platte River, to feed in the cut-over cornfields, on the journey between Siberia and Mexico, an epic migration like wildebeests on the Serengeti.
Something in that reminds me of a moment in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, in which a wandering child, thirsty and alone, comes to a stream but sees a lion lying between herself and the stream. The lion invites her to drink, but she, overtaken by fear, says, “I must go and look for another stream,” to which the lion replies, “There is no other stream.”
That line, “There is no other stream,” is embroidered on this stole, made for the wedding of my younger brother who had embraced those words some years ago, words used in the sacrament, as we stood on a beach, barefooted, a few feet from an ocean the color of aquamarines.
At this point I cannot resist mentioning the Hobbit in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who carries a container of water given to him to defend himself, by the mythic queen. She tells him that if all else fails, he can summon the powers of the water that shine in dark places, increasing the hope and strength of the one who carries the water.
Tolkien and Lewis work with mythic images as they explore evil and death, goodness and life, realities shrouded in mystery, and an image that keeps showing up is the water with its primal interior movement, the great unconscious, water as the giver and sustainer of life: power and protection. It’s always about the water.
Then, there is the water of Baptism, plunging someone into the mystery of faith, with the ebb and flow of that journey. So it is that Jesus is baptized by John in the 30th year of their lives, whose baptism holds the mystery of the Christian faith. Knee-deep in the Jordan, John stands over Jesus, the Spirit manifests in the form of a bird, and a voice from above, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased:” three persons of the Trinity right here, in this place, in the water.
What strikes me about the Baptism is that it appears in three of the Gospels. Many stories appear once: the annunciation of Mary, only in Luke; the wise men, only Matthew; Lazarus, only John. A story like Baptism, told three times, suggests that something extraordinary happened, though decades passed before it was recorded.
Some people hear about Baptism, joining or working within a church, as one more thing on a long list of things to do, or as an invitation to be more: more forgiving, more generous. However simple it sounds, the invitation has an edge, because we hear stories of what can happen: Moses in the desert, the bush bursting into fire, Daniel in a fiery furnace, Paul in prison. Yet maybe the work within the church is simply to be who you are now, but re-framing and understanding yourself as belonging and beloved.
The Baptism of Jesus represents the power and the mystery of the kingdom, a weaving of intellect, spirit, and body, between the envelope of spirit, the immanence of God, and the human vulnerability of Jesus.
“This is my beloved”: a language of belonging, of being known, understood, and present for a reason. It is a language of hope, a theology of hope, a language of love, and, like Jesus, you stand, known and beloved. You are marked and sealed in baptism. The kingdom is among you, and you reside within the kingdom.
Do you remember the child, thirsty and alone? She does drink from the stream, invited and welcomed by the lion, the Lion of Judah.
Here we stand, in a new year, surrounded by all manner of fires. Maybe the work is to be unafraid of the fire, to rise up with the power of fire, to take flight, and summon the power of the water for hope.
Here we stand, in a new year, surrounded by the persons of the Trinity that cast light into the dark. We stand caught up in the mystery of the kingdom,
ankle-deep, knee-deep, neck-deep in the waters of life.