In 1984, Rev. Ralph Crawford prayed with me as I professed faith in Jesus for the first time. He reminded me that all of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory. At age seven, this was for me a deep experience of faith.
I remember mom taking me to the American Legion pool in the summer of 1985 so I could take swimming lessons, in part, to prepare me to be immersed for baptism. On November 17, 1985 I found myself standing with my pastor Rev. Ralph Crawford on a small stool that had been submerged below a pool of water.
My experience of baptism was a time of great joy for me. Even as an eight year old I recognized that God was doing something significant in my life. I realized that I was publicly claiming Jesus and Jesus had claimed me as his own.
Often, over the years of attending that church, I would look up at the mural at the back of the chancel area, a mural with a sycamore tree and a river that flowed into the baptismal pool. I was reminded of being there with Ralph and my Dad and going under the water as I prayed that I would not accidentally experience water rushing up my nostrils. More so, I was reminded of how refreshed I felt and filled by God’s presence at that particular moment.
Forward to January of 2012, I found myself at a place called Bethabara (beth-ab-ər-ə; בית עברה), commonly known as “Bethany beyond the Jordan”. This is where John the Baptist preached and performed baptisms, where he met with a group of priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees to investigate his ministry, and where he baptized Jesus. We were told we’d be visiting this spot; yet, I had not done much to prepare myself for what lay ahead for me.
I was with a group of my seminary peers, most of them coming from United Methodist traditions being baptized by sprinkling at birth. They were excited to remember their baptism. Many of them scooping the water from the Jordan River and placing it on their heads. In that moment, as I prepared to join them, something overcame me. I found myself again filled with God’s presence and desiring to tangibly remember what God had done for me back in 1985. I questioned though what people would think of me if I waded in. What would I be proclaiming to my friends? Would they judge me for being crazy enough to get in? Would they critique me for desiring to remember my baptism as I had been baptized?
A few minutes later I found myself stomach high in the frigid water, thinking okay this is enough. But something inside of me said, “You need to go all in.” Clenching my nose, I sucked in a breath of air, and pushed myself under. After the initial shock of the chilly water, I found myself back at that place with God, experiencing God’s grace through the work of the Holy Spirit remembering anew God’s claim on me.
As we remembered our baptisms last Sunday, it was not the amount of water or the mode used that was important. What was and is important is the openness of our hearts, to remember the unfailing covenant that God made with us to claim us and call us his own forever. This is the same covenant I often remember before visiting patients at HEB Hospital. While there, I often go to the prayer garden dedicated by Edna Anderson, dip my hand into the fountain, and stand before the cross being reminded who has called me to the work of caring for others. I am reminded my identity is rooted in that of Jesus Christ and it is he who has called me to continue in his ministry of healing.
This remembrance of my baptism leads me to a question. Each time we remember our baptism, will we come to the water as merely another motion or passing moment or, will we so bold to go “all in” and with our community of faith remember God’s claim on our lives and be moved, once again, to grow deeper with God?