Other Reflections

Reflections on Baptism

“The Lord said write. And I said what shall I write?”  So went one of the conversations of a prophet – escaping me just who at the moment.    But I have been hearing these words too.  They have been playing in my head.  So, pen has been taken to paper, to give the Lord as free a reign as my stubborn nature will allow, to the command. Since we are ‘scripture’ being written every day until the last day, it is important to be the Word of God spoken and speaking in the world. We are not only scripture we are also sacrament.  Sacred, holy, saints, set apart, called to be different from the world- called to be in the world, but not of the world.  We are called by God, for God, to bring the world to God.  “Take up your cross and follow me!” (Mk 8:34) We are living salvation history here and now.  The Son of Man was called to “give his life as a ransom for many”(Is.53:10), and we are told, invited, to take up our cross and follow him.  This is our call!  To be his people, his chosen people, by our baptism!  At our baptism we are called to be priest, prophet and king!  We are told that we belong to the royal household of God. This reality of baptism is frightening because in many ways baptism has been reduced to ‘being done!’

If only we knew the import of our baptism!  All of the gifts, fruits of the Holy Spirit, or whatever other theological terms we want to use, are to be lived out by us the children of God, as his priest, prophet, and king!  These are dynamic, unequivocal callings!  Each is a very particular living of a committed life, – that is a sacrificial life. If it were to be described in a pictorial manner it would be something like this: our eyes would be on the Lord with earnest, expectancy; our ears alert, with hands cupped behind them so as not to miss anything; and lips partly ajar ready to speak.  This ready intensity of waiting on the Lord is already in itself a lived, active adoration, praise and humility directed to God.  This is one part of the picture.  In this readiness God is already acting, speaking; the initiator of this readiness.  His word is heard by the ears, received by the lips ajar and his heart is seen by the eyes.  This stance with the Lord is what is required by all the baptized. We are happy to assume that this call is only for those pictured with halos around their heads!  Not so at all!

This stance is described in many places in scripture.  After gazing on the Lord, Isaiah hears the words “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (Is 6:3), and declares himself a sinful man, whose lips are cleansed so that he can speak.  Or again we hear words “Whom shall I send?’”Send me!” (Is 6:8) Other prophet say after experiencing the Lord, ‘The Lord commanded me to speak!’. And what a beautiful picture is painted in the words –  “As the eyes of a servant are on the hands of her mistress so are our eyes on you O Lord our God!” (Ps 123:2) Notice that it says “our eyes” – it is the call of all of us, a communal call to be ready to act in the Lord’s name!. “Speak Lord your servant is listening!”(1sam 3:10)  These are just some of the attitudes of mind, heart and whole being of a baptized Christian.  This is the attitude and demeanor of one set apart to be priest, prophet and king in order to build the kingdom of God.

In fact in baptism by our anointing we are consecrated, which in its fullest meaning is to be destroyed – destroyed in all that we were, to be consumed by the Lord. The word consecrated in its root means to be ‘consumed’, to be ‘destroyed’. Whatever we do, in whatever walk of life, with whatever gifts are apparent in our personhood –  it is to be done speaking the word of the Lord in truthful boldness no matter the consequences.  It is to be done in a willingness to live a life of sacrifice as “persona Christi”, interceding for his people.  Whatever we do, using whatever gifts we have been given is to be done as a person of the royal household of God concerned with the wellbeing of all his people without distinction, because in our baptism we are participating in the priesthood of Christ.

To grow to this ultimate point of the call of baptism requires the awareness of another call from deep within .  It is the call to be one with the beloved one – the Trinity.   We have a common Father, who created us in love. We have a brotherhood with Jesus who loves us to his death. At our Baptism as at Jesus’ baptism we are embraced by the Father, in our saviour, brother Jesus, wrapped in the love of the Spirit.  This only makes sense doesn’t it, if he has invited us to follow him. The following of him starts at out baptism. In our oneness within the Trinity we are “seduced” by the Lord, as Jeremiah says ( Jer. 20:7) and so we follow him to the desert experience for 40 days, figuratively speaking- in fact, the desert experience of life.  To know our gifts, our path with the Lord, demands a relationship with him, as he had with his Father.  It demands entering a ‘desert’ place with him.  Jesus is recorded as inviting his apostles and disciples to a deserted place.  He must have done this often because eventually his apostles asked him to teach them how to pray. Something they experienced when they were alone with him in a lonely place. And, the loneliest of places was the Mount of Olives.  So we could easily add in the words “as you pray”.

The sad reality is that we approach our understanding of being ‘priest’, ‘prophet’ and ‘king’, just as we approach ‘gifts’ and ‘fruits’ of the Holy Spirit. We tend to define them psychologically and scientifically itemizing them as we would a list of things to purchase at a supermarket.  Remember that even theology is a science, albeit it is supposed to be about the love of God.  But, sadly it often strays far from this in its lived reality!  In our days we treat science as a god and believe everything it tells us is about what is right and wrong, right down to how we breathe! When we portray the gifts of the Holy spirit in a absolutely defined manner, and look at how they are distributed according to our psychological makeup, we are falling into the trap of reducing our  faith to science – taking away the freedom of the Holy Spirit. We are dictating how he is to act.  We are even reducing our prayer to science!  We are so afraid of the desert – the desert of not knowing, of not having a blue print, of not having scientific order, of not having scientific proof!

Baptism is ultimately entering into a relationship to be discovered, as all relationships are to be discovered. We are baptized into a community of the Trinity.  We are baptized into the community of faith.  That is, we are baptized into the community of the Church established by Jesus, sent by the Father and who with the Father sends the promised Holy Spirit who will lead us to all truth.  AND this church is not a business, is not a corporation, is not a school that awards degrees to the worthy.  And it is not an economic institution!  No clocks are punched!  There are no CEO’s with big bank accounts and places of status!  There are no statistics of performance.

Rather we are asked “Do you love me?!”(Jn 21:15).  We are asked to “Come and see”(Jn 1:39).  We are asked “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” (Mt.20”22) We are told “You are more important than …”(Mt 7:26).  How can we come to know the meaning of all these words and many more if we do not risk coming away for a while to know the one who makes them?  If we do not take this risk then we risk falling into the trap the devil set for Jesus in the desert.  This world will dictate the meaning of our life and our baptism will become meaningless.  The devil will, and does present the world in a very flattering and beguiling manner.  We will become ‘prophets’ of commercialism, power, authority, spouting empty words devoid of the Truth.  We will become ‘priests’ of secularism, consumerism, sexuality, egoism, blessing evil as good at the altars of desecration.  We will become ‘kings’ of our own domain, CEO’s of a corporate church, lusting for adulation, shepherding through fear and empty theology to support the rules of our own making.

When baptism is not seen and understood as being at one in a totally trusting embrace with the Trinity, and being ready at every moment to move in the Lord and through the Lord and with the Lord, then we risk fulfilling Jesus’ words of woe to the Pharisees – placing heavy burdens, being blind guides, polishing the tombs of prophets when our own lives are void, empty because of noisy, meaningless activity coming from self motivation rather than from the heart of a relationship with Jesus.   Baptism is a call to a dynamic, rooted life meant to be lived in the light of the Lord, thus removing the darkness of the world. It calls for us to take our energy and motivation from the eternal, not the temporal.  We are to cry ‘out’ in the ‘wilderness’’ in the darkness –  “Make straight the way of the Lord!”(Jn 1:23) This was proclaimed by another man, John the Baptist who like Jesus spent time in the desert.

Much time, energy and motivation is wasted when the incentive is from the head, from good ideas, or from any and every ‘good’ organization that comes along.  Because something is ‘good’’ with all of the best rational intentions,  does not mean that it is what should be done, or what the Lord wants done.  Our life of faith becomes frantic, like little sparks flying all over the place and then fizzling out.   Martha got the hint about this when Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part.

We say that Jesus gives many gifts for many needs.  And he does.  But, we can start many things as though from the Lord with no discernment but just for the sake of doing something.  We forget the power of waiting, listening and seeing with the eyes of the heart into the heart of Jesus.  Then the Lord can manifest within us his gifts as he wants them used to proclaim his kingdom, his truth.  An image comes to mind that describes this urge to be doing many ‘good’ things.  It is the image of the sheep without a shepherd – going in many directions.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it was like sheep without a shepherd.

What does all this have to do with baptism and abandonment to divine providence?  Baptism is to be immersed in Jesus.  To go down into the water is not only to be ‘washed’ it is to ‘die’.  It is to die to self, to the values of the world and it is to rise clothed in Christ!  It is to go down into the darkness of the deep and to rise as the light of Christ!  It is to live set apart by God, for the world.  He knows best what the world needs!  Baptism is the centre of Paul’s words “I live no longer I but Christ lives in me!”  (Gal. 2:20) Baptism is to allow Jesus to put the rope around our waist and lead us where we would rather not go!(Jn 21:18)  To live our baptism is rarely something neat and clean, like one and one equals two.  Baptism means to expose the darkness, bring it prophetically into the light as Jesus did on the cross. It means being willing to die for one’s faith physically and more often in the daily,  living out of our call to be Christ when no one wants to hear the truth. It means that we see everything as coming from and leading to the Lord.  Therefore, it means that we do and decide to do everything through the eyes of the lord.  It means that we live and move and have our being in Jesus, who showers us with every gift that we need at any given moment to do his will.  In a word, baptism is the ultimate call to abandonment to Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the way, truth and life, as the pearl of great price, as the reason to sell all we consider ours to embrace all that is his.  It is to allow the Spirit to blow where it will within us, and within the world.  It could be said then that it is the call to be out of control of our lives because they belong to God.  Baptism is to allow the Lord to be in control of our lives; to allow the Lord to be the one who directs our minds, heart and physical being!

What a difference it would make if we lived this way day in and day out!  How much freer we would be!  We get a thrill when we see someone sky dive, or when we let a slide take us through snaking curves to the bottom. Well that is Baptism. We let go!  We are in a sense out of control.  Really much of John’s Gospel is about this.  Jesus is begging his apostles to realize that in following him we are truly one with him.  In the two examples above there are the parachute and the slide.  We are not really free falling – though we say we are.  So we are to be one with Jesus as we are with the parachute and the slide!  Why?  So that we realize the power of one!  Jesus said that he came only to do his Father’s will and look what he accomplished.  Can I say, and do I say the same thing.  Well, actually I do in the Our Father.  “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”  As with so many of our prayers the words become empty.  Much of the time we convince ourselves that we are doing the Father’s will, because we are after all, doing something that is good!

It is not because the money changers, buyers and sellers in the Temple were necessarily doing anything bad that Jesus drove them out.  Those cattle, sheep and doves were needed for ritual sacrifices.  We, like the Jews convince ourselves that a multiplicity of good things is wonderful.  Our time and energy goes into things.  They become trappings.  Things and money consume the consumer.  Jesus’ words to the buyers and sellers could be said to us – ‘clean out what is trapping your faith!’  We would be just as surprised as the Jews if Jesus were to tell us to take all the multiplicity of our activities; all our buying, selling, all  our petitions etcetera, out of his sight.

We like to be able to say that we have got something done.  And what better way to get something done than to make a big splash about it and then call it prophetic because it was noticed!  We can then chalk it up as a success!  All the time ‘I’ and ‘we’ are at the center.  Forgotten entirely is ‘the Lord’  The Temple entrepreneurs lost focus, no longer seeing beyond the outer courts of the Temple-  no longer seeing the Lord of their Temple. We likewise lose focus when we are not immersed in the Lord. We change the Lord into an item of commerce.

When we change our baptismal call into an agenda, we also risk losing the chance to say “It is the Lord!”(Jn 21:7)  We lose the chance to say “It is the Lord!” at all points in our journey – struggles, sorrows, catastrophes, joys and frustrations. When we marvel at all we are doing’ we cannot see in our dust what the Lord is doing in very strange ways!

Isn’t it strange that a hostile Samaritan town could come to believe in Jesus?  He broke all the mores of behavior.  He talked to a sinful woman!  He confused his disciples and turned a town upside down.  How?  He sat by a well to rest.  To rest in biblical terms is to be with the Lord – to contemplate. He was at one with his Father.

Again, we have another strange happening.  Jesus, leaving the Temple, the place of light and faith, sees a man born blind, – that is one called a sinner. This sinner was to cause great consternation in his new found faith. He became a living lesson to the apostles, disciples, Pharisees and his family. This courage to step outside set mores, comfort zones and other defined limitations is given to us at our anointing in Baptism.  Not only do we receive the courage, but also the wisdom and insight flowing from our oneness with the Trinity.  Jesus prayed for this oneness at the Last Supper, promising that we wouldn’t be left orphans, and that we would be lead to all truth. Dynamic things happen when we trustingly abide in him as he abides in us. When we are unhampered by the trappings of power, fear, money and prearranged goals, we begin to see God present in any given moment, in any given place.  “It is the Lord!” Our eyes are opened to his loving presence and our heart wishes to co-operate in compassion, mercy or forgiveness.  We are also able to see evil for what it is. Baptism calls us to be the light of Christ in each ‘now’ – free to be moved as he moves us.

We would like to consider our lives in a very organized and ordered way.  We hear the phrase used – ‘our God is a God of order’. This is usually used to justify our own rational control of our lives. The only day of the week that we are ordered to do anything is Sunday. We are told that God ‘rested’ on the Sabbath, surveying all he had done.  This is along the same lines as Mary contemplating all that the Lord had done. We are command to rest as the Lord did on the Sabbath because otherwise we probably wouldn’t.  So the order God wishes us to keep in our lives is one of prayer!  This is apparent in the creation account and in the life of Jesus himself.   And as said at the beginning of this article, this is what Jesus did after his baptism.  It is what Paul did after his conversion.  He prayed throughout his life in all circumstances, putting his life in the Lord’s hands.  He came to the point of being able to say “All things are through him, and with him, and in him!”(Rm 11:36)

This is baptism.  We are immersed in death to new life – consumed by it. This is the Third Scurtiny – the first two already mentioned above – the Woman at the Welland the Man Born Blind. Through this immersion we come new life to consume Him who died, rose to new life, thus becoming him whom we consume.  Baptism leads to our ultimate consummation and consummating in one great act of thanksgiving – the Eucharist. Yes, lord, I can be baptized with the baptism with which you are baptized!  With this as our stance the darkness will never overcome us as we live our priestly, prophetic, kingly lives. Our lives find their true meaning in daily giving over the controls, the abandonment we declared in our Baptism.  “I have called you by your name and you are mine!”(Jer 1:5)

“It is not for us to determine what manner of submission we owe to God, but only to submit and be ready to accept everything that comes to us …. Not a single moment of my life is in my own hands.  All is yours, I have nothing to add, remove, seek or consider.  It is for you Lord, to direct everything.”  (Jean Pierre de Causade)

“Live in me as I live in you!”(Jn 14:19)