Monday, August 09, 2010

Lakeside Baptisms

This past weekend, I did a good bit of traveling, but as the weekend came to an end, I found out about an outdoor baptism being organized by Chestnut Ridge Church at Cheat Lake in Morgantown, WV. After a delicious lunch at Twila's Restaurant in Bruceton Mills, my dad, Jamie, and I made the trip to Cheat Lake to join with those who had gathered to celebrate this step of faith and obedience in the lives of over 20 people (not sure the exact number) in front of a large crowd gathered by the lake, and even a grouping of boats who watched from the water.

There's something about being gathered outdoors for anything that sparks a series of wonderful memories for me. All of my tribe's ceremonies took place in a field on our land in Maryland, and I've always felt a sense of serenity when immersed in the realm of trees, plants, and water. It was quite a journey out a long narrow road to make our way to this little secluded park, and as I stood on the shore watching people take a steps into the water and toward a symbolic and real step of obedience to Jesus, my mind took me back to my own remote baptism. It was October 1997, and I was in Garrett County on my tribe's land. There was a group of eight of us Shawnee people who wanted to take a step of obedience to Jesus. As we waded into the frigid mountain waters of Bear Creek, we benefited from both a sprinkling and immersion as our chiefs baptized the group of us one by one. I had brought a pair of shorts, but I loaned them to another guy who had just placed his faith in Jesus and wanted to be baptized too. So all I had left to wear into the water was my breechcloth. I imagine there was once a time when many more Indian people were baptized in breechcloths, but on that particular day, I was the only one.

Back at Cheat Lake yesterday, there were no breech cloths or tribal chiefs present, but there was a strong sense of community and celebration as young and old took their physical steps of obedience into the lake in front of a gathering of friends and family. There's a beauty to this ancient ceremony, and I hope that those who participated in this tradition will carry the memory with them for a very long time.

I moved from standing to sitting and I listened. I listened as story after story was shared about how Jesus had changed each person's life, and how these people wanted to take a step of faithful obedience to him. The stories were beautiful, personal, and intimate, and so was the setting. Sometimes, it feels like we are so driven by closed spaces and separation from the created world, and I think the outdoor atmosphere made a wonderful step of faith all the more wonder-filled.  Besides that, with an outdoor baptism, one doesn't waste water and heat by filling up a baptismal and heating it for a few hours, only to empty it after the days's events have concluded.  Lakes and streams get heated by the sun, and nobody has to drain them afterward. :)

I hope you can spend some time outside today and that your heart and mind are filled with wonder as you immerse yourself in the calm of creation.

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