Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Howe's Cave - baptism" from L.L. Barkat

Continuing with L.L. on her journey in Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places we arrive to Howe's Cave with her grandmother, as she gets a feel for a darkness that is heavy and unpleasant in contrast to the sunlight that she loves. L.L. likens water baptism to having that element of darkness and with it a sense of dread: "a silent world of stalactite and stalagmite - forbidding swords of some dragon's lair that hang and rise." (p. 47)

L.L. was baptized as a baby in her mother's arms, and then later baptized as a teenager in the evangelical church they were attending. Neither meant anything to her in terms of what baptism meant to the early church, with those who submitted themselves to this ancient rite, beginning with John the Baptizer's ministry- from what we read in Scripture and know from Jewish tradition.

Water symbolizes or brings with it life and chaos, fear and death in Scripture. In the rite of baptism we have a symbol and reenactment of what happens to the believer through Jesus' descent into death and ascent into life by the resurrection. Someday to be completely and perfectly fulfilled, this begins in our lives even now in Jesus by faith. It is meant to be a marker for us, a reminder, indeed an enactment that we have crossed over from death to life, from the wilderness wandering to the promised land.

In light of everything that water meant to these ancients, descending into its depths during baptism is like opening a door - inviting curious onlookers to peer into the chaos, hear the beating of a dragon heart, lament how the soul seems crushed by weight of darkness. In the same instant it's an invitation to expectation. A rescue is being played out. A creation is being enacted. The one who descends celebrates ascension to a re-created life that teems with lilies and peaches, eagles and red-eyed tree frogs. (p. 50)
Like L.L., I too have been baptized twice. The first time in my church as a teenager after I went forward in an evangelistic meeting mainly to satisfy my mother and relieve the pressure to make a commitment, wondering if it would make a difference in my life, which ultimately it did not. I can hardly remember it, just that it happened. Later, after truly committing my life to Christ I was immersed in a baptistery in a Baptist church that was borrowed by the church I attended in college. It surely meant more to me then. But not as much as it would mean to me now. Though I believe we can look back on our baptisms and more appreciate their meaning for us later. Like L.L. reminds us, we understand better the meaning of what we do, often after we do it than when we do it.

Baptism to the early Christians and tied to the Jewish rite of mikvah, meant a completely new life for the convert to Judaism, and it meant that one was marked for life, like dyed cloth through Jesus' death as "a worm crushed for crimson dye." (p 51)

Wouldn't it be nice if after our water baptism expressive of faith in Jesus and new life in him out of death, we would always live up to that and our new identity in him! In Jesus our lives are changed, but more like Jacob who wrestled with God. We still struggle and experience setback as if to bring us to that place which baptism so vividly pictures. Descent into death as we despair of ourselves, and ascent into life as we truly look to God and experience more of the resurrection life in Jesus. So that baptism is a picture not only of our entrance into the Christian life, but reminds us of what we're being saved from- our old self and sin, and what we're saved to- our real identity and life in Jesus. Yet our lives in this reality are hit with "struggle and setback". We must press on in the meaning of our baptism, daily. And an important ongoing part of that is our struggle and setback as we continue to put to death what belongs to our old life in Adam, and put on what belongs to our new life in Jesus.

Read this chapter (and book!!!). L.L. gets her point across wonderfully well, and it's one to remember and ponder as we live during this time in which our salvation is yet to be made entirely complete.

What about you? What does baptism mean to you? And what does that mean for your life today?

1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame

3. Tossed Treasures - messiness

4. Heron Road - suffering

5. Sword in the Stone - resistance

Next week: Palisade Cliffs - doubt


Rachel Mc said...

I too have been baptzed twice; as an infant and May 20, 2006. The first I have no memories (or pictures!) of, and the second was my choice and it felt so good and I felt so ready to be baptized...
My sons were with me to witness the baptism and that was real important to me. Every so oftem my pastor will offer a baptism renewal during service for people to come up and renew the committment they made at baptism. I like that idea.
Your statement about what baptism give us "being saved from old self and sin, saved to our real identity and life in Jesus" I need to think about that for awhile..who is the real rachel? Good question, and I do belive the answer lies with Jesus and His workings in my life. I just am not sure what that looks like.

Anonymous said...

in college
knew it was showing my belief in Jesus.

took a wrong turn...
had to get directions from God back to the main road...that took about...hum...30 years.

after the last few years, looking back on getting baptised, i can see i had a lot more to learn.

it is easy to look back and see what i did not know that i know now.

makes me think now that it is good to talk to my God every day, so i can stay on the main road.

that wonderful walk with God.

L.L. Barkat said...

One of the most stunning things for me, in researching about baptism, was the sense of the word (being related to cloth that's been dyed). From a theological standpoint, it suggests that conversion is hard, if not impossible to shake. This is a comfort during times of struggle. Maybe it also reminds us who we are, which serves as a point of challenge and inspiration.

Ted M. Gossard said...

You just let the new you come out as you more and more find your identity in Jesus.

For me, the new me, with all the rough edges, just as I am. But that person being different at the core of my being in Jesus. Just having to work out through my life in a growing, maturing manner, what all that means. Not easy, but good.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes it's a relational, even conversational thing with God, though different than with people. Yet even more intimate, at least I get a sense of that, or that that's true. And ongoing. And anytime, as you suggest or say in your comment.

Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., I can't remember reading that before, and it is quite interesting- about the dye aspect tied to baptism.

And yes, that is reassuring. Even while I'm unsure that this means one can't turn their back on a true conversion, ultimately. I think God's word does not want us to think we're home free, if I read the New Testament and Paul, correctly.

But the dye part is important, and we need to have that sense of assurance in spite of us, so much of the time. God's grace, but we're to continue in our faith in Jesus, in this reality of which baptism so powerfully depicts and enacts.

L.L. Barkat said...

Ted, oh yes, I thought my comment might bring up Calvinist ideas. :) I have no strong opinions on that. I was thinking in terms of identity... you know, that being "dyed" surely is a picture of a new, hard-to-shake identity. Or at least it should be that way. (Sobering to think that sometimes I do not live up to my "true colors", but, as I said before, inspiring and challenging too.)

Thanks for leading us in this discussion (are there any of the discussion questions you think might be worthy to pose here?)

blessings... LL

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, that might really stir discussion better. I know you mentioned them to me before, and I have forgotten them most of the time (they are tucked in the back!), but did give them a look yesterday. And they're good.

I have to admit that baptism is not an easy subject since there is so much difference among Christians as to the details of it. I really liked Ben Witherington's book
on baptism (a funny cover, maybe symbolic of one taking a dive into the subject!). It brought clarity on it in an amazing across the board way for Christians who see and practice it differently.

I do think the early church saw baptism in a much stronger way, evidenced in the New Testament, than many of us see it now. Though not in a regenerative way as if water baptism makes one born again along with faith.

For me it's value lies in seeing it's ongoing meaning for me each day. The old Ted is dead; the new Ted in Jesus is alive. So I'm to walk in the newness of that resurrection life in Jesus. Something like that.