Last week, I had the privilege of visiting Farmington Friends Meeting; the only other programmed meeting in the yearly meeting. I had been invited to officiate at the dedication of Pastor Margaret Webb’s two children—Teddy and Claire. It was a delightful experience! Both children are beautiful creations of God and their parents. A dedication among Friends is an opportunity to bless a new life, and for the faith community to officially recognize the role they play in supporting and nurturing the children in their midst. We are not the only denomination who dedicates babies and young children; however we are THE ONLY ONE that does not baptize people with water at any stage in their faith life….For many denominations the rite of Baptism signals membership into Christianity– in addition to that particular denomination, as well as a blessing. Many baptized Christians view their baptism as the initiation of their Christian journey…
As Quakers or Friends, we have a slightly different view of baptism and the use of water for that ritual. I’m quoting Wilmer Cooper who says: “For more than three centuries Friends have proclaimed the essentially spiritual nature of the believers’ relationship to God. For most this has lead to a testimony against the outward use of sacraments. . . .the inward way to the Spirit is not to be dependent upon rites, ceremonies, and liturgical aids, Friends maintain that “the presence of Christ in the midst” can be a living experience for all who open themselves to the Spirit of God.” So because we view the crucial experience of baptism to be inward, spiritual, and something that can happen anywhere-anytime, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about water and the way it can reflect or symbolize God and God’s qualities or aspects. I think that sometimes this is a detriment and impediment to our exploration of the reality of spiritual things….that we don’t often talk about water and its role in the relationship of God with God’s people. Obviously, based on our list, water has been a key concept or ingredient down through time according to scripture. So-let’s talk about and explore water as it pertains to our faith journeys a bit further today!
“What do you know about water? A lot. You drink it, you bathe in it, you swim in it, wash your clothes in it. lt is necessary for life. Water can be benign, as when we use it for washing, it’s use can be healthful, as when we use it for drinking, and it can be downright dangerous as when there is an undertow and one is pulled into the depths of the ocean.” Water is present in both scriptures read this morning…in very specific, useful, dangerous ways. They both invite, encourage, and challenge their readers to be immersed — which is what the literal meaning of the word baptism is-to be soaked and saturated in the presence, love, power of the divine, as the divine creates, interacts, influences, redeems humanity down through time to right here and now.
Let’s look a little closer at these scriptures. What exactly are we being called to immerse ourselves in?! Both the Genesis and the Mark readings contain the element of starting something new…ln Genesis we are at the beginning of everything as God creates the known world. In Mark, Jesus is called to begin his public ministry with a new awareness of what it means for him to be God’s child. We’re reminded that as God begins with creation there are dangerous, strong forces that must come under God’s control in order for there to be life. Also in Mark, if one lays aside the “Nice, tranquil scene of John dipping Jesus beneath the waters of the river and Jesus hearing God up above claiming him as God’s beloved son, and a sweet dove, the holy spirit, hovering above” and really reads this description it’s realized that the heavens are torn apart and the spirit of God enters INTO Jesus: THUNK. This too is a scene of much power, and a strong unsettling dynamic… lf God has torn open the heavens, then where is God?! GOD lS ON THE LOOSE!!! Right in our neighborhood….! These beginnings invite and challenge us to begin again, with new awareness, the journey– within which God is up close and personal, and the ruler of powers which can shake up our world! We certainly aren’t in control are we?! Are we ready to begin — immersed in this wonderful, dangerous, redeeming water of life?
Another presence in both our stories is God’s spirit… lt is the spirit of God that speaks to the waters and reigns them in “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. It is the spirit of God that forms and fashions all creation. ln Mark, God’ spirit descends, and then enters in, ready to accompany Jesus as he moves out from that river. This is where I really appreciate the Quaker interpretation of the baptism experience… The key element is God’s spirit, which can and will enter into each human’s being as a constant and continual guide and companion. Can you feel that? Do you connect with that presence here in worship during the silence? Or on the way to shop or to work? ls it that spirit which enables you to think and do during times of stress, fear, or joy? lt can be…
There were two readings I came upon this week that for me captured the essence of what we are called to in these waters of God from scripture, and I want to share them with you now:
First, this excerpt written by Rufus Jones from Britain Yearly Meeting’ Faith and Practice:
While I was too young to have any religion of my own, I had come to a home where religion kept its fires always burning. We had very few ‘things’, but we were rich in invisible wealth. I was not ‘christened’ in a church, but I was sprinkled from morning to night with the dew of religion. We never ate a meal which did not begin with a hush of thanksgiving; we never began a day without ‘a family gathering’ at which mother read a chapter of the Bible after which there would follow a weighty silence. These silences, during which all the children of our family were hushed with a kind of awe, were very important features of my spiritual development. There was work inside and outside the house waiting to be done, and yet we sat there hushed and quiet, doing nothing. I very quickly discovered that something real was taking place. We were feeling our way down to that place from which living words come, and very often they did come. Some one would bow and talk with God so simply and quietly that He never seemed far away. The words helped to explain the silence. We were now finding what we had been searching for. When I first began to think of God I did not think of Him as very far off. At meeting some of the Friends who prayed shouted loud and strong when they called upon Him, but at home He always heard easily and He seemed to be there with us in the living silence. My first steps in religion were thus acted. It was a religion which we did together. Almost nothing was said in the way of instructing me. We all joined together to listen for God, and then one of us talked to Him for the others. In these simple ways my religious disposition was being unconsciously formed and the roots of my faith in unseen realities were reaching down far below my crude and childish surface thinking.
And then this recent writing of Frank Yamada from Christian Century Magazine:
When I remember my baptism, I reach back to hear the voice that speaks to me out of the waters—the voice that proclaims to a world of conflict that we are all “very good” and claims us all as “Beloved”. The Spirit moves in and out of our busy lives, and there are times when I recognize the Spirit’s hovering presence beckoning all to a different otder, to a new creation. As I reach for the water, whether in a font or on the ocean’s edge, I find myself trying to connect to the chaotic, life-giving, and mysterious power that resides in its depths. One day I hope that I can say along with Langston Hughes: “I’ve known rivers; ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
So again, I query; are YOU ready to enter into the pool of God’s grace-filled and dangerous power and newness? To be swept up and held in the waves of God’s eternally near and abiding Spirit?
COME ON IN! The water’s fine!