Brothers and Sisters, today is a strange Sunday in the Christian calendar.
When I volunteered for today, I honestly thought I would be writing about it being the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. And then I found out: there is NO such thing as the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. First Monday, yes. First Sunday, no. It's always either Epiphany, which already happened this year, or the Feast Day for Jesus' Baptism.
Given how the whole baptism issue has been nipping at my heels this past year, I am presuming some angels are laughing themselves to tears somewhere. But that is not my topic for this evening, because there has been an interesting conversation on the incarnation this past week in the progressive Christian blogosphere and I realized it's connected to my thoughts on baptism.
Welcome to Brothers and Sisters, the weekly meetup for prayer* and community at Daily Kos. We put an asterisk on pray* to acknowledge that not everyone uses conventional religious language, but may want to share joys and concerns, or simply take solace in a meditative atmosphere. Anyone who comes in the spirit of mutual respect, warmth and healing is welcome.Given the occasion and my own religious affiliation, this week's diary will be Christian-centric, but all are welcome here.
The conversation I'm referring to is about the vulnerability inherent in Jesus' incarnation. Partly the whole Utterly Dependent Baby imagery of the season, but also other elements.
And what hit me is how much of my thoughts around baptism have to do with the vulnerability aspects of adult immersion baptism - which is what Jesus let be done to him that day in the river.
I have a wee bit of a submersion phobia. So do many of my female relatives. Has something to do with cousins, brothers, etc pulling us underwater at young ages and it being brushed off as clowning around we weren't supposed to get angry at, or at least that's my theory and it's certainly why it didn't stop the first time someone landed his sister with death-fears when she faced her baptism a few years after.
I tried to overcome it by getting used to completely submerging myself in the swimming pool starting a few summers beforehand, when the 'isn't it about time' pressures started getting serious. Only it isn't the same thing to submerge yourself.
When you submerge yourself, you are in control. If you are in chest-high water, all you have to do is stand back up.
This does not hold true for immersion baptism. Most churches that practice adult immersion do not have baptismal pools designed to let someone leverage themselves back up to air. I was off-balance enough at mine that if the minister involved had suddenly passed out, someone else would have had to help me get my head back above water. They also tend not to practice fully adult baptism except for converts - the person being baptized is often a decade or more younger and much lighter and weaker than the person pushing them under the water.
And the risk of drowning during baptism isn't just a theoretical thing - some of my ancestors were German Anabaptists fleeing the threat of a method of execution known as Third Baptism. One of the victims of it in Martyr's Mirror appears to be a possible cousin who didn't flee far enough fast enough.
So how does this figure into the incarnation discussion?
Jesus was an adult. Thirty years old by church tradition. John was about six months older. And had been living in the wild or on the absolute edge of civilization for at least a decade, as compared to his cousin Jesus who even in the 'and he wandered to the east and learned things there' rumors is always depicted as staying where civilization is.
Consider this: 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the desert, and angels have to bring Jesus food afterward. John would have gone to the nearest beehive and taken what he wanted.
John was a little older and had lived a lifestyle that likely made him a lot stronger.
Jesus' baptism was always framed to me as a 'God wants us to, see even Jesus did, [now why haven't you yet?]' thing. But that's not entirely it at all, not if you aren't big enough and strong enough to see being held underwater for a few seconds as something that is just harmless horseplay. It is about vulnerability and being someone who has to face human instincts and fears that all say continual access to gaseous oxygen is the most preferable thing in the world.
So today's remembrance is not about just a pure obedience 'and so it was done as it was foretold' thing. It's also about a Being Human thing, and an interesting fore-echo of that which lies at the other end of this first 'half' of Ordinary Time (and if I'd gotten started talking about the death imagery in some traditions baptism-related theology, this diary would have ended up three times as long).
"Down In The River To Pray" (Lyrics in video description on youtube
Yes, I know it's not really a baptism song. Except in "O Brother Where Art Thou" it is. And it fits what I was taught as a kid about Jesus being baptized as an example, so it's getting embedded anyway.