I only wish I’d been awake to the deeper, richer sense of baptism’s symbols on the day I stepped into tepid water, closed my eyes to chlorine and a pastor. But as Lauren Winner notes, sometimes we, like the Israelites, have to use that little phrase out of Exodus 24, Na’aseh v’nishma: We will do and we will understand. Sometimes the doing brings the understanding. Sometimes, as in my case, there’s an embarrassing time gap between the act and the illumination. (L.L. Barkat, Stone Crossings).
The sky is a series of threads woven through the clouds tonight, the sun dips low and her rays crisscross in daedal strands. We drive into this gauzy gossamer and the road beneath is chatoyant silk. I am lost in folds and seams and undulating panels.
In my perfect world I would study heavenly heights all day. I would memorize the intricate colors of sunrise and sunset, get lost in pilgrim clouds, call each star by name, and laugh with gentle moon-friend. I would sleep underneath her charcoal blanket without a shiver. The sky—my wind-caress, my deep breath, my free-fall lover. Who could tire of the ever-changing canvas of her ways?
Tonight I want to dip my hand in and gather bits of her—bundle sky-pieces up in my arms. She seems so rich with substance, as if my hands can hold her. As if they would not emerge baptized in only tiny beads of moisture and air. If I try to embrace the atmosphere, my arms are left achingly…empty.
Earlier, as my boys made music–tucked into those tiny studio rooms with teachers–I read. I curled up under streetlight in the front seat of my van and imagined my head sinking under water…my long hair floating out to the sides, breath stilled for a moment, limbs buoyant and light…until I emerge—burst through the surface a new person.
St. Augustine said a sacrament was “a visible sign of an invisible reality”. In class last weekend, the professor taught me a new word: apocalyptic epistemology. This is a way of thinking, she said, that there is a heavenly realm that affects earthly happenings; there is a spiritual dimension to all things that happen here. “Apo” means “away”. “Calypto” to “take away”. And “episteme” means “knowledge”. There are things hidden that must be uncovered. They cannot be seen until God reveals them.
I think of my baptism and wonder–this washing in water here on earth—what is its mirror in the heavenlies? When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, was there an angelic delivery team waiting in heaven? And after we are born again through water, what does the journey that ensues look like through divine eyes?
Some days I am a child learning to walk again.
Sometimes, when I think of the day that I stood in front of my brothers and sisters and had my head sprinkled with holy water…sometimes I am tempted to think that day is like trying to grab hold clouds in my arms. I am left wet, but holding nothing. I feel no divine difference in my nature. I still stumble, I still crave, I still make mistakes sometimes.
But tonight, when I look at the wisps of cloud capturing the edges of the sun this way…I see that there is much more than what can be touched and seen going on up there.
I have been reborn. And like any infant, I require certain things. There are the regular feedings, the nurturing, the systematic passing through developmental stages. I am being transformed. Open my eyes to the wonder of it all, sweet Jesus. I don’t want to miss this growing part.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)
…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)