Monday, April 22, 2013

"Down to the River to Pray"

"As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!"

So sang Allison Krauss and the choir from the First Baptist Church, of White House, Tennessee, on the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"  They are all inspiring to me...the movie, the song, the artist, the arrangement.

Hold that thought....

The waters were chilly as we stepped off the bank into Coffee County Lake yesterday morning, Rae Walker and me.  But the warm sun and a radiant sense of God's presence provided a beautiful counterpoint to the coolness as we waded deeper. 

Yesterday was an all-round wonderful day of worship, napping, and front-porch sitting, but those brief moments lakeside fill the playback loop in my heart and mind even today.  It was as if the whole experience, lasting only a matter of minutes, was somehow framed by God's Spirit--like the trailer of a good movie--to represent the best of the day, the people gathered, the act of baptizing, and the remembrance of Jesus' own dip in Jordan's green waters so very long ago. 

To be honest, when I went to bed Saturday evening my anticipation was somewhat dampened by the forecast of a 39 degree low for the evening and a very slow warm-up to the low 70s on Sunday.  We had already put off the special day for Rae due to rainy weather the week prior and putting it off again...well, it didn't seem "right"...just because it might be rather uncomfortable in the chilled waters.

But there we stood before a company of family and church friends as Rae confessed those ancient words, "Jesus is Lord!" And on that confession, the baptism was begun and ended all in one fell swoop, literally.

As we walked hand in hand out of the waters, Rae washed from head to toe and me only wet to the waist, it all came together for me.  We had been "off road" with God...again.  Slight physical discomfort was so powerfully outmatched by the warmth of the moment, the sympathetic sensation of Jesus' baptism, the well-pleased faces of the faithful gathered on the bank and heralding, "Then sings my soul....How great thou art!"  Even the squishy sand beneath my feet just seemed...righteously affirming.  Who knew the Jordan ran through Elba, Alabama?!

Life seemed so good and God so very great.  Faith had its smooth edges scuffed by the chill and then reformed by the experience.  Baptism in "the good ol' way," lacking the creature comforts of a heat-controlled baptistery and sanctuary, but canopied by God's grand creation and a sense of being embraced by the Creator, even in creation's cool waters.

Recently someone quoted a Southern writer as having posited that "Air conditioning was the ruin of Southern literature," believing that our retreat from the front porch had so stunted the authentic, if discomforted, perspective of porch life.  I can't speak for the factual nature of the quote nor its source, but the sentiment seemed powerfully accurate to me as we emerged from the murky waters of the lake. 

To return to the more earthy practice of river/lake baptisms has been as rewarding to me as the fresh bread baked for our monthly Covenant and Communion Service, and the homemade scuppernong wine in which we "intinct" our little pinch of the body of Christ.  It leaves me longing for more imaginative, earthy, "off road" faith experiences.  To celebrate worship at the beach or in the mountains as much as the four-walled sanctuary.  To hold up faithfulness in the daily attendance of the duties to which God has called each of us as important beyond our weekly church attendance.  To believe God speaks as powerfully through the experiences of our daily lives as through Scripture. 

Thanks to Rae for insisting on baptism as soon as possible, no matter the comfort!  And to God--thanks for a community of faith willing to take to the trails in pursuit of stronger faith.  "God Lord, show us the way!"