John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." -Mark 1:4-11
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Thou art my beloved...
Love tore the heavens open and spoke. If Jesus hadn't comprehended the fullness of his being before that moment, with the help of John the Baptist at the Jordan River, he understands now. And, as Gregory of Nyssa says, all these things are a figure (typos) of ourselves. The Voice tears open the heavens to declare us Beloved.
So let us celebrate this feast accordingly (meditation one) and acknowledge, too, Christ's thirst, that is, his longing in love for us (meditation two). And let us be love for one another (meditation three).
"Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him." (Gregory of Nazianzus) Amen!
in light and in love, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) hasten toward life
The holy day of lights, to which we have come and which we are celebrating today, has for its origin the baptism of my Christ, the true Light that lightens everyone coming into the world, and effects my purification…. It is a season of new birth: let us be born again! We duly celebrated at his birth – I, the one who presided at the feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world. With the star we ran, with the magi we worshiped, with the shepherds we were enlightened, with the angels we glorified him with Simeon we took him up in his arms, and with the chaste and aged Anna we made our responsive confession…. Now we come to another of Christ’s acts and another mystery…. The Spirit bears witness to his Godhead, for he descends upon one that is like him, as does the voice from heaven…. Let us venerate today the baptism of Christ.
- Gregory of Nazianzus c.329-389/390 (A Christmas Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications)
Leave the desert, that is to say, sin. Cross the Jordan. Hasten toward life according to Christ, toward the earth which bears the fruits of joy, where run, according to the promise, streams of milk and honey. Overthrow Jericho, the old dwelling-place, do not leave it fortified. All these things are a figure (typos) of ourselves. All are prefigurations of realities which now are made manifest.
- Gregory of Nyssa c.335- after 394 (quoted from The Liturgical Year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Adrian Nocent O.S.B.)
The Father is the Spring, the Son is called the stream and we are said to drink the Spirit.
- Athanasius Ad Serapionem 1:9
Symbolism: Referencing the teachings of the Church Fathers –
(Water) possessed of itself a cleansing property and for this further reason was regarded as holy: hence its use in ritual ablution, where its properties washed away all offences and all stain of guilt. The waters of baptism alone wash away sin, and baptism is only conferred once because it opens the way to a new state, that of the new person. … The cleansing properties possessed by water gave it the additional force of the power of redemption. Immersion was regenerative, it effected a rebirth in the sense of its being simultaneously alive and dead. Water wipes out what has gone before, since it restores the individual to a fresh condition. Immersion is like Christ’s entombment. He came to life again after descending into the bowels of the Earth. Water is the symbol of regeneration and the waters of baptism lead explicitly to being ‘born again’ (John 3:3-7. They are the means of initiation. The Shepherd of Hermes speaks of those ‘who go down into the waters dead and come up again alive.’ The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Chevalier & Gheerbrant p.1084
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" -Mark 10:38
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. -Paul, Letter to the Romans 6:3-4
The Baptism of Christ, Scenes from the Life of Christ, Mariotto di Nardo, 1394-1424
Meditation Two (insight) longing in love
For this is Christ's spiritual thirst, his longing in love, which persists and always will until we see him ... Therefore this is his thirst and his longing in love for us, to gather us all here into him, to our endless joy, as I see it. For we are not now so wholly in him as we then shall be. … We are his bliss, we are his reward, we are his honor, we are his crown. … For he still has that same thirst and longing which he had upon the Cross, which desire, longing and thirst, as I see it, were in him from without beginning; and he will have this until the time that the last soul which will be saved has come up into his bliss. … and this is the characteristic of spiritual thirst, which will persist in him so long as we are in need, and will draw us up into his bliss.
-Julian of Norwich c.1342-c.1416 Revelations of Divine Love
Meditation Three (integration) love is God in me
Yes, love is God in me, and if I am in love I am in God, that is, in life, in grace: a sharer in God's being....
If charity is God in me, why look for God any further than myself?
And if God is in me as love, why do I change or disfigure God's face with acts or values which are not love?
-Carlo Carretto 1910-1988 Love Is for Living (quoted from Carlo Carretto: Essential Writings, Robert Ellsberg)
The Last Word
Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.
Here I am, back at the Jordan. I was here in Advent -- lost, clutching at straws, impressed by a mere reed shaken by the wind, broken and empty. I met a prophet in the desert. Turn toward the Holy One, he said. Repent. Accept the forgiveness of your sins and begin a new way. Come into the River, he said. Prepare the way of the Lord, he said.
And now, in Epiphany, at that same river, the prophet baptizes the One who was, who is, who is to come. This One, this man, is manifested in absolute ordinariness. Is this the Good News he speaks of? Utter ordinariness? The sacred unfolding in the mundane? Can hope live in my broken life, raw-fleshed with loss?
A Voice hovers over the face of the waters - as if the man in the river, just like me, must be reassured of this hope also. Beloved. You are my Beloved. What losses await this One manifested so fully in the human condition?
Let me hear the Voice above the waters whispering 'Beloved'. Baptize me into your unseen hope. Call me to go with you into sacred spheres of ordinariness. Heal my poisoned flesh, my diseased soul.