Living Waters Yoga
The meaning of baptism as a “drowning,” clear when performed as an immersion, has been obscured by the practice of baptism by “affusion” (pouring) or “aspersion” (sprinkling) and by the use of bowl-like fonts. Similarly, this has also encouraged a misplaced emphasis on the aspect of “cleansing” in baptism, which is confusing (even distressing) when the candidate is an infant.
Christians understand baptism to be a washing away of “original sin,” the condition of being alienated from God, which is characteristic of all humanity and mythologically inherited from their first parents, Adam and Eve. This is possible precisely because the human Christ has paid the penalty for sin in his death on the cross and made possible again the fellowship humanity enjoyed with God in the Garden of Eden.
Baptism is described in Christian theology as a sacrament, that is to say, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (blog of Common Prayer). It’s an “effective” sign, one that actually brings about what it signifies, by which God works invisibly within us.
Sacraments are not magical. They’re not at the disposal of men and women who happen to know the words or how to perform the actions. They work because part of humanity is being restored to its proper relationship with God, and so to its intended dignity and status. They belong to a redeemed space within the “fallen” world.
In the language of the gospels, this space was called the “kingdom” of God and was actualized when Christ lived on Earth and “went about among us.” The miracles that he performed may be interpreted as signs of the kingdom “overflowing” into mundane reality. Interestingly, the first of these was the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11).
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Wine itself is, of course, pregnant with meaning in Christianity. At the Last Supper, Jesus identifies wine with his own blood and instructs his disciples to share wine in memory of him until they’re reunited in heaven (Matthew 26:26-29). The next day, Good Friday, they see blood and water flowing from his side when it’s pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear to confirm that he has truly died on the cross (John 19:34).
To this day, when Christians meet to remember Jesus, a little water is mingled with the wine that is to “become” his blood. As the priest does this, he whispers one of the “secret” prayers: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we share the divinity of Christ as he humbled himself to share our humanity.” The wine represents the divinity, the water the humanity. In the Eucharistthe mystic supper Christians have a foretaste of the divine life that’s promised to them and prefigured in the turning of water into wine at the marriage feast.
We’re to understand the occasion when Jesus “walks on water” (Matthew 14:22-33) in a similar way. The miracle is not a display of power in which Jesus bypasses the laws of nature, nor is it a “natural” act that the eyewitnesses failed to understand (such as that Jesus was actually walking on submerged ice). What the disciples are witnessing is a manifestation of the world as it’s meant to be and was before the Fall, a world where the forces of nature and humanity are in harmony with one another. Jesus even encourages Peter to follow him onto the sea as a foretaste of the restored creation.
There are other occasions in the gospels in which water plays a central role and illuminates important aspects of Christian teaching. At Jacob’s Well, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman who’s drawing water if she could give him a drink. When she expresses surprise for “religious” reasons (Jews normally had no dealings with Samaritans), Jesus tells her that if she’d known who he was, she would have asked him for a drink and would have received in return “living water”: “Everyone who drinks of this [well] water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty” (John 4:13-14).
He isn’t simply using a metaphor in which water represents faith. Jesus is pointing to a time when the elements, along with the whole of creation, will be restored. Christianity doesn’t reject the material world or consider it as in opposition to the spiritual. Everything God made is “good” (Genesis 1:31); although everything, too, has been affected by humanity’s disobedience.