Baptism and Wilderness

A week from this Saturday, November 6, CMC is hosting an in-person workshop called “Believe and Be Baptized: Conversations on a 500-year-old tradition.”  The event will be led by John Roth, Professor of History at Goshen College in Indiana.  It is part of a series of events anticipating the 500-year anniversary of the Anabaptist movement (a small gathering on January 21, 1525 during which members re-baptized themselves is frequently referenced as the beginning of Anabaptism).  This workshop will include a presentation by Roth along with a Lutheran and Roman Catholic presenter, and opportunities for conversation.  More info and registration can be found HERE.    

While baptism was frequently a matter of life and death for early Anabaptists, it holds a different place in the church today.  Put another way: What is the place of baptism in the church today, if any?!

This summer as I was studying rituals and rites of passage I was reminded how Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness resembles the Vision Quest of Lakota and other Native American peoples as they sought Spirit’s guidance through a time in nature during which they were physically vulnerable.  This experience, and those similar to it of other cultures, was an essential part of claiming one’s place in the community of life and gaining clarity on what one might contribute.    

In the gospels this serves as a pivotal experience that prepares and propels Jesus into public ministry, having faced down the demons of how he might abuse the power given him.  It is noteworthy that this happens directly after Jesus’ baptism, as if the two events are part of the same formative experience.

The question of the role of baptism in our lives these days is an important one.  But if it isn’t connected to the role of wilderness formation I’m not sure we’ll arrive at an answer that meets its potential.  In my own life, baptism and the wilderness journey of the soul happened decades apart (and the latter took a lot longer than 40 days).

Although I don’t think this particular angle will come up at the workshop, I’m looking forward to the discussion it provokes and would welcome seeing some of you there.