Murder in the Baptistry Most people know that Thomas Beckett was murdered in the cathedral by nobles who thought they were doing the will of King Henry II. But murder happens in churches all the time. Murder of a sort, that is: by drowning in the waters of baptism. Baptism is the putting to death of the old human nature, weary and hopeless, and is the rebirth of a new humanity capable of beautiful spiritual qualities. Baptism brings spiritual evolution.
Water is the symbol of this transformation. Water is a very strange substance. We cannot live within it because we cannot breath. We cannot live without it because we dry up and die. Life first formed in the water covering the surface of this planet, until at some point creatures crawled out of it to live on dry land. Each of us reinacts this same evolution when the water of our mother breaks and we are propelled out screaming into the world. Like those ancient creatures we too leave the waters for an adventure in dry air.
This week we remember the Baptism of Christ when John the Baptist reluctantly plunged Jesus into the flowing waters of the Jordan River, thus making baptism holy for Christians, a way to join Christ in his life and ministry. John preached a baptism of repentance, a change of direction. But the baptism of Christ changed baptism more than it changed Christ. Baptism becomes the door to a new existence. The old dies, the new is born. This rebirth aspect of baptism is equally as ancient and is more important in my thinking than the washing-away-of-sins theology so much emphasized by so many modern expressions of Christianity.
One of the reasons I think traditional spirituality has lost so much appeal today is that I think the modern world underestimates the need for hope and the magnitude of human possibility. Focusing on the material alone the modern ethos can fall into the trap of seeing us as creatures of little consequence in the vastness of the far flung universe. But this belief in new life, of being reborn in the waters of baptism, understands the immensity of human possibility. We can love. We can know joy. We can be creative. We can dream. The main thing we murder in the waters of baptism is pessimism about what we humans are in God's grand scheme of things. In Baptism God’s dreams for us come true.