Spirited Reflection: The baptismal drive
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
As a young adult, I became interested in alternatives to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Being someone interested in all kinds of things, it was not a question that helped show me my path in life.
The question that did was this: “What makes you feel most alive?”
Baptism of the Lord is a good occasion for us to reflect on this question. There are two elements whose interplay in the readings for today can enrich that reflection – Water and Spirit. It is the interplay between Water and Spirit that manifests the Living God – that creates the Living Waters. In Genesis, we have the first movement – Spirit sweeps over the waters before God separates the light from the dark. The Psalmist sings, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters.” And is this not something!? Have you ever been where the wind sweeps over the waters? Perhaps you walked the beach on a windy day? Or were on a boat when the surface of the waters came suddenly alive with the electricity of the air? Indeed, it is a moment of being alive!
Jesus was baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan River. As he emerges, the Spirit comes again, this time descending like a dove. It is no wonder Mark used this image to describe the moment. Have you ever watched a bird descend on the winds? Many people describe a winged creature suddenly and inexplicably landing near to them as a moment of Grace. We glimpse something beautiful before it once again takes to the skies and we are transformed.
Jesus’ human body in that moment of baptism is immersed in both Water and Spirit – alive. The waters no longer simply purify and wash away sin; alive with the Spirit, they also give birth to something new! We hear the Baptist’s words, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Being truly alive is no easy thing. We celebrate baptisms with parties, gifts, food, and drink. Jesus did not go off to party after the voice from Heaven said, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The first effect of his baptism was to be “driven” into the desert with the wild beasts, where he was tempted by Satan and waited upon by angels.
Why is this the first thing that happens? Why be driven into the wilderness? Simply answered – because if is the natural effect of baptism. To be driven is the natural effect of coming alive! We speak of our “baptismal calling” as Christians. Could we not also speak of our “baptismal drive?”
Being alive is not just an adrenaline rush, though many people describe it that way (skydiving anyone?). I believe that being alive is encountering and living the presence of God. This is something that manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes it is an adrenaline rush. Sometimes it is a deep and profound peace.
In my Roman Catholic tradition, we anoint the newly baptized child with a mixture of oil and balsam called Chrism. The child is anointed as Jesus was, “Priest, Prophet, and King.” These aspects of the anointed Jesus – the Christ – are unique aspects of being alive.
We can feel alive when we contemplate and participate in the sacrificial mystery of God – as does Christ the priest. This might happen during our moments of worship in the community, or alone on a beach where the waves are crashing against a rising sun. It might happen when we give up something close to us for the sake of the one whom we love.
We can feel alive when we resist injustice and oppression in the world – as does Christ the prophet. People of faith have been driven this way for millennia – recognizing that calling for an end to violence and oppression in any form is holy work. It has taken many forms, from quiet lobbying to loud protests. It has happened in private homes and public streets. This has been the source of some of the deepest experiences of God’s presence in my own life. I always like to joke that the only thing I have ever been arrested for in life is praying (which was formally charged as either trespassing or causing mischief)!
We can feel alive when we use whatever power we have in life to act for the common good – as does Christ.
the King. Almost all of us are faced with choices about how to use power in our lives – some more than others! We know from the life of Jesus that the best thing to do with power is to render it to God by putting it toward the common good. For some this may relate to our experience in the workplace. For others it could be as simple as how we treat a younger family member, or even a homeless person we encounter on the street.
What makes you feel alive? This is the question for us on this Sunday as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. May you discover your baptismal drive again and again, each and every day.
Luke Stocking is the deputy director of Public Engagement with Development & Peace – Caritas Canada. He has an M.A. in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto with a focus on Catholic Social Teaching and 20th century Catholic Social Movements. His vocation in life is to live and share the social teachings of the Catholic faith.