Sunday, 12 January 2014

Danger: deep water

Flooding on the Oxfordshire Thames
Water can be dangerous. That much have we witnessed recently with the widespread flooding across the South East of the UK.

It's something to bear in mind as the Church this weekend remembered the baptism of Christ, baptised in the Jordan into the mess of life, and death. 

John Pridmore, writing in The Word is Very Near You (2009) tells an anecdote about the Jordan river, suggesting Jesus' baptism was not such a fresh and cleansing experience as we like to offer today: 'I once had on display in my religious studies classroom a bottle of water which I had drawn from the Jordan. Soon the green and slimy liquid was spawning all manner of disgusting things. Clearly it was a health hazard and it had to be thrown away' (p. 34).

In contrast, Kierkegaard dismissed a tidy little Christening he attended, with these words: 'A silken priest, with an elegant gesture, sprinkles water three times on the dear little baby and dries his hands gracefully with the towel' (in Pridmore, p. 35).

Baptismal life is not graceful, it's not the icing on the cake for baby; it's like water - unpredictable and overwhelming.

It's a strange fact of life on this planet that we cannot do without the very thing that in times of flood, claims so many lives: Philip Larkin said of water that it would be the main element if he were to design a new religion:

'If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church 
Would entail and fording
To dry; different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.'

Water: unpredictable and overwhelming. But then again it can let the light through.

Much of Church life is controlled - we are unsure of unpredictability and we fear being overwhelmed (especially us recovering control freaks). 

As with the prophet Ezekiel's vision of the river flowing through the city of God, we must be prepared for the shallows to become deeper and deeper till we're wading up to our chest. Only then will Epiphany happen - a true revelation of the divine in everyday life.

1 comment:

  1. When we baptise people at our church, the children like to crowd round the end of the baptistery at the 'head' end, so that when the person being baptised goes under they get hit by the splash. I'm sure there's some deep symbolism in there somewhere!