Magazine article The Christian Century

A Watery Solution. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Watery Solution. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

Sunday, January 12

Mark 1:4-11; Genesis 1:1-5

THE COVENANT FOR holy baptism, as found in the United Methodist Book of Worship, tells the biblical story of water. "Eternal Father," the story begins, "when nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark through water. After the flood, you set in the clouds a rainbow. When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt you led them to freedom through the sea. Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land which you promised. In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb." From that first instant of creation, water has played midwife to God's creation story.

The midwives of my own baptism were the church ladies of a Southern Baptist congregation. I was baptized on a warm April night in Kentucky. Candlelight in the rotunda reflected the sacredness of the moment as I waded into the warm water of the baptismal pool and let the pastor's firm grasp cradle me. I held my nose and was submerged in the water of new birth while he invoked the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. When I came up out of the water, the bright light startled me. I saw my proud family. Then the church midwives, smelling of Jergens lotion and dressed in flowered shirtwaist dresses and strings of pearls, wrapped me in a warm towel and handed me my baptismal certificate. I tried to take it all in. Something had happened that night but I wasn't quite sure what it was. As Heather Murray Elkins says, I had been sealed with the imago Christi, a permanent tattoo. Yet nothing was visible. What did this baptism mean for my life now?

I think of Robert Duvall in the movie Tender Mercies. Duvall plays Mae, a down-on-his-luck country songwriter who battles the bottle. He fights back with the help of a young widow who offers him room and board at her roadside Texas motel in exchange for handyman help. Grace finds a toehold in Mac's life, and eventually both Mac and the widow's young boy, Sonny, make the decision to be baptized. Driving home after the baptism, Sonny says to Mae: "Well, we done it Mac, we was baptized." Peering into the truck's rearview mirror, Sonny studies himself for a moment. "Everybody said I'd feel like a changed person. Do you feel like a changed person?" "Not yet," replies Mac. "You don't look any different, Mac." "Do you think I look any different?" "Not yet," answers Mac. Like Sonny, we don't always see ourselves as changed people. …

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