Crossing the Waters, Part Two
A few days my son blew in from the nets drenched from head to socks. "It's really nasty out there. A rogue wave caught us," he explained, peeling off his dripping sweatshirt. It blew for 3 days, turning our seas into mountains. Off Kodiak Island, another huge wave hit a boat, the Miss Destinee, capsizing it. Two people were saved by the Coast Guard, two were lost, an 18 and 22 year old brother and sister. (Please pray for the family.)
We spend the first nine months of our lives curled in water, held safe. Even as those waters rupture, delivering us to air and light, we never stop craving and fearing the water, which delivers both life and death.
Standing in the Jordan River, in Israel a few years ago, I thought of all this. The Jordan was green and sludgy, nothing like our vast clean Alaskan ocean, but it's water just the same. It promises more life (and maybe more death?) than any other body of water, perhaps.
Hundreds from every nation and tribe, it seemed, were there that day at the baptismal site, stirring the dirty river into beautiful mayhem. One group held everyone’s attention. Fifty olive-skinned men and women, dressed in the white robes, lined up beside the river clapping and singing hymns and praises in four part harmony, with rich-throated beauty. Two guitarists accompanied them as they sung and swayed rhythmically at the water’s edge. One by one they waded out to their two pastors, who put their hand on their head, spoke, then dunked them under the water. Then each one would rise, their faces erased for a moment, then they wobbled and fainted, each one. Men in white robes caught them and carried their slain-in-the-spirit body lengthwise, like the dead, slowly up the steps to lay them down beside the ones before them.
What was this swoon? Was this their death to their old selfish self? Swallowed by the water that once swallowed up Jesus, wasn't this also a birth?
I was baptized in a river as well. I was 17. My pastor was there and others from my youth group. I was wearing a white robe, and I walked out into the water like these Jordan River pilgrims. My pastor leaned me back into the water, I rose spluttering, and it was done. No one was singing. I did not faint or swoon or see heaven open, but I was asking for just as much. I lived in a house without heat, without hope. I died there a long time ago, until I heard of this man Jesus. I would follow him, I decided, into the desert, into anywhere, even into death, under the waters of a river. As I broke through the surface, gasping air again, I was starting life again.
Here, in the Jordan, this day, it's a circus of hope and joy, with crying and guitar-playing and river-splashing and dunking. People are shouting and singing and hugging each other in their wet robes. The waters have swallowed them up; they are reborn.
I stay for hours and speak to a group of Amish pastors. They tell me their people are giving up their old ways of law-keeping and are finding a new life in Jesus. I speak to three laughing sisters from Ghana who have come with their church to be baptized. I cannot contain my wonder.
Overwhelmed, I sit down next to a 70-ish man dressed all in white. We begin to talk. He is off a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, he tells me. They are in Israel just two days. He is German, from Saskatchewan. In just seconds, he confesses to me, “I don’t beleef in any of this hocus-pocus,” he says, with a wave of his hand, as the praise music fills our ears. “It’s ridiculous. How can there be a god? What are you going to tell me about Hitler, eh? And the Tsunami that killed all those people. No, with that kind of evil, there’s no god. I beleef in the stars.”
I am not surprised by his words. Don't most of us do this---blame God for every calamity and credit ourselves for every Good?
Now I see others here who are tourists from the cruise ship. A few are positioned on the railings, gaping at the baptizers. An older man dressed in beige looks down on the people in the river with disdain. I watch an Asian man and woman carry a plastic jug into the river, filling it with the brown water to take back home. Out beyond the barrier in the river, where no one is allowed, a church group of teenagers and adults are hooting and cannonballing off a boulder. I see a small African man by the kiosk nervously break off an entire branch of an olive tree and hand it quickly to two women who guiltily look for a place to hide it. The Amish pastors stand at the rail smiling at everyone below. And above and through it all, the sweet strains of hymns as the Brazilian church choir sings praises to Jesus.
What a world this river has made!!
An obscure man named Jesus whom people knew only as a carpenter from a nearby village, itself known for nothing, walked the shores of this ordinary river and submitted himself to a loony man in animal skin to be shoved under water--and 2000 years later, churches, families, tribes from all nations still come across continents to fall into these waters, waters nearly killed by politics, agriculture and economics. Yet still they come to confess, to sink, to rise, to swoon, to watch, believing that all can be cleansed under this water, that forgiveness and reconciliation between enemies is possible, that foreigners can be made a family. There are even benches here for unbelief.
What is the power of this water and this place? Who is this man Jesus?
Half the world away, we stumble in from our own waters, drenched, fatigued, but we keep going back, we keep launching our boats onto and under the waters, always returning.
What do I know?
I don’t know all that happened that day almost 2000 years ago when the much-loved son burst from those waters, and a piece of heaven ripped wide, but I do know this from my own sea and from this river:
Wherever there is water, the thirsty, the desperate, and the dirty are there.
We are all invited in.
Once we go under the water, we’re never the same.
(At the Sea of Galilee)
Have you been "under the waters?" If yes, tell me what happened for you. If not, what is holding you back?
Congrats to Dawn, Jensen, Ingrid and Amy who each won a Crossing the Waters book this last week. This week, I'm sending out 4 more. To enter the drawing, Would you do the same as last week?
1. Share this post on your social media. Let your friends know what this is about (getting a closer look at Jesus and what it might mean to "follow Him."
2. Let me know you did that in the comments below. Include your email address.
Thank you, friends. May God lead you safely through the waters this week!