Washed in the waters of baptism

By Vinal Van Benthem | January 8, 2015

According to a recent National Public Radio report, as water from the Jordan Valley is diverted elsewhere, the level of the Dead Sea, into which this water previously flowed, is dropping dramatically. Elsewhere, a national news magazine featured an article reporting that “… a proposed pipeline project would carry water from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea, a large lake that is dropping in volume. The project would be a rare example of cooperation between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.” It would seem that water, albeit salty and almost unusable, is so precious that even people divided by war will come together in order to preserve it.

What do we think of when we think of water? We know we need water to drink but what about all the other things we do with water? We enjoy boating and fishing, swimming and water skiing. But we also realize that water can be dangerous. A person can drown and die in water. In times of drought, water can mean the difference between bringing a crop to harvest and watching clouds of dusty soil blow away. When rains are heavy, entire towns can be destroyed, homes swept away in torrential floods. We bathe in water. We use water to cook our food. The presence or absence of water can mean the difference between life and death.

Is it any wonder, then, that we use water when we baptize? For John the Baptist, water baptism symbolized cleansing from sin. At Jesus’ baptism, water came to symbolize much more. “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open …” Jesus, the Messiah, would reunite heaven and earth in an unbreakable bond of love. As the waters of baptism poured around him “… the Spirit … descend[ed] upon him … ”. We too, have been washed in the waters of baptism. The Spirit has also been poured out upon us. Do we understand what that means? Are we open to all that Baptism requires of us, not only in the Jordan Valley but in our own homes and hearts?

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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