Midweek Faith Lift
May 20, 2020
The Cosmic Power of Baptism
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
“O Spirit, grace me and others with the courage and generosity to respond fully to my calling and to see my work and relationships in light of that vocation. Grant me flexibility and creativity also to adjust that calling as the times dictate and as the needs of my culture require.” Stations of the Cosmic Christ, p. 74.
And so we begin in prayer, a prayer that is at the end of the 4th Station of the Cosmic Christ, the station of Baptism. It is the station that follows Nativity, the Station Three we visited last week as part of Mother’s Day. Having been birthed, we next encounter Baptism, a sacrament in the traditional Christian church. We in Unity do not require or invest a great deal of energy in this Baptism process, but perhaps we need to in light of our current experience in this COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally, Baptism was to “erase the stain of Original Sin” and it was performed for infants soon after birth in the early Catholic Church. Since we, in Unity, don’t teach that we are of sinful origin, baptism is not needed as an initiation or cleansing ritual.
However, that does not mean that it is insignificant! Especially given that we are in the midst of an epic Baptism in our world right now that comes as a result of COVID 19. How is that? Well to explore that question, and to understand the cosmic significance of it, we look at the Baptism of Jesus, of John the Baptist and his role in this experience. We look at the notion of “repentance” and at the capacity to be with chaos as we seek to understand the energy and meaning of what is here right now; the messiness of our current reality. We are actually going through a kind of Cosmic Baptism together, even as we resist all that it is bringing to us, wanted and unwanted. How is that?
The Gospel of Mark, the first gospel written, begins with story of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, his cousin. Here is how it is written
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
That is a powerful story with a lot of images and layers of meaning. Let’s unpack some of that for us, today. Jesus was a Jewish man and there are many mikvahs or cleansing rituals in Judaism that involve water or bathing. A mikvah is a purification ritual, which Rabbis performed before and after engaging in sacred activities in the temple or holy days. Baptism as Jesus experienced it was not a traditional Jewish ritual and as such it has a special cosmic significance, an archetypal significance. Let’s look at the circumstances in which it takes place. John is in the wilderness surviving on honey and locusts, so he is an unlikely hero. Nonetheless, people are coming to him to be immersed in the river and baptized. They are seeking forgiveness and expressing a desire to repent.
Repent? That is a word we can choke on in the west as we have typically seen repentance as privileging the intellect or mind over the body and devaluing emotions and body experiences as these are the sources of sinning. In this understanding of repentance, it comes from the Greek, which could be translated as “getting the new consciousness we need for our new conditions.” Stations of the Cosmic Christ, p. 72. Hmm, well that sounds relevant to us today!
And in the classical Greek understanding, the word baptism was used when talking about “saturating something in another medium” p, 72., specifically the drowning of sailors. John was fully immersing people in the River Jordan, symbolic of death so that new life can begin.
The waters of baptism represent the life that is dying so that new life can begin. The waters of the oceans and rivers represented the primordial forces of chaos and thus baptism represents the new life that can emerge after the symbolic “death” by immersion in the waters of chaos. The Archetypal Cosmic Christ being baptized in the River Jordan represents the leaving behind of a consciousness that we no longer need or want, so that we can re-emerge into a new life, a new consciousness. It represents a new order of life and love out of the old chaos of death and destruction.
When Jesus is baptized, the heavens split open and a dove, symbol of love and of life and wisdom, descends and the voice of God is heard by Jesus alone, telling him of his mission as the beloved Son of God in whom God is so well pleased! The Spirit is with Jesus as he is now immediately driven into the desert, into the wilderness for a time of trial. So as you are initiated into that consciousness of love and life, you will also be given many trials and tests to insure that you really integrate the change that has happened in your consciousness. That time of trial was for Jesus to take time apart to come into the realization of his true identity and nature before he began his preaching, teaching and healing ministry. It was a powerful rite of passage and of cosmic significance!
So it is for us in this challenging energy of the COVID-19 experience as we discern how we are to meet it, engage it and use it effectively and constructively. Our questions are so big as we struggle to see beyond the threshold of the liminal space that we are in, the space between how it was, how it is now and what will it be like in the future. What is it that the Baptism of COVID-19, the chaos of it, does for us? What does it mean, and what does this Baptism by pandemic mean? What is my next wise action in the face of all this pandemic fallout that is revealing how all of our social contracts have changed and have unraveled so that letting folks die becomes an acceptable choice?
Like all of us, I really struggle to make any sense of this and to find any kind of healing path forward. We are truly, like Jesus, in a time in the wilderness, having undergone Baptism by pandemic on a Cosmic scale. And I do not have any particular wisdom to offer, only reflections on what my searching has revealed. It is tempting to jump to conclusions and to see all the potential good that can come out of this pandemic Baptism, wilderness experience. That however, is to miss the point of the deeper change that the near-death experience of literal Baptism is meant to represent for us.
Bishop Marc in Stations of the Cosmic Christ offers us this insight and question:
The Archetype of the Baptism of Jesus is a most potent symbol-it is about acquiring a new consciousness, after all. When we encounter it, radical choices lie before us. Are you ready to have the prior status quo turned over for the needs of a world longing for a new beginning? To become an agent of new life? P. 73
If you are at such an important point, pray for the appearance of a companion, a teacher a guide…to raise you up and to point you out as a child of God.
If we are really preparing the way of the Lord, preparing the path for ourselves and others to step into Cosmic change, we are going to have to use this time of quarantine, of wilderness as a time of reflection and preparation. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, and 4 is a number of balance and human completion. There are 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 points of balance for a thing to be complete. Which says to me that we will be in this Cosmic Pandemic Baptism until the experience of it is complete. It is like what Jesus experienced, a time of questioning, exploring one’s identity and limits and of discovery of one’s true nature.
I long to know what the next step looks like, what the next iteration of this whole COVID-19 will be. And all we have is the question, what is my call in this, what is the next wise thing I am to do? I pray for that wise guide, my own John the Baptist, my inner voice to guide me. It seems to me that all we can do is end as we began today, with the prayer:
“O Spirit, grace me and others with the courage and generosity to respond fully to my calling and to see my work and relationships in light of that vocation. Grant me flexibility and creativity also to adjust that calling as the times dictate and as the needs of my culture require.”
And so it is and so we let it be. Amen.
Blessings on the Path,