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 Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:9-11]*
The image from yesterday morning’s scripture meditation, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, is staying with me. When I read the passage slowly and prayerfully a new word caught my attention, torn as in the very heavens were torn asunder, as in “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom,” at the moment of Christ death on the cross. [Matthew 27:51]* How have I missed this for so long?
I place myself there, standing in line, waiting for my turn to go under the muddy water of the Jordan to be cleansed and renewed, patiently, expectantly waiting. I want my life to be changed, to be new. And as I wait and watch with the crowd, this man from Nazareth moves toward John. He then goes down under the surface, completely submerged. The water becomes still as we all wait in expectation. When he bursts forth, breaking the plane of the water the very sky tears asunder. Heaven and earth are untied for this moment that transcends our physical senses, bridging time, space and dimensions. A dove alights above the dripping head of this man who stands humbly before John the Baptizer. Many of us see the dove and hear the voice, a rumbling of thunder that vibrates our very core, a voice in our minds and hearts, announcing the Beloved Son. This is what it means to experience a true sacramental moment. When the physical and temporal become scared, when the veil between the world of our senses tears open to reveal the world of spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth.
I recall reading somewhere, (I wish I could find the exact words and the author) that a sacramental moment is when actions, rituals, words, and/or objects are experienced in such a way as to open our hearts and minds to the eternal, when a veil is lifted and grace and light fill the space. This may happen when you are strolling in the woods, or listening to a song you love, while you are reading a poem that moves you, or gazing into the face of an infant. For many the veil is lifted during the worship service they attend each Sunday. For Catholics this may happen during the liturgy of the mass, when the host is raised, or when they partake of the body of Christ in the form of bread and wine. For me the lengthy liturgies during Easter Holy week and Christmas or even a funeral mass when the casket or urn holding the physical remains of the departed are blessed with holy water, opens the veil. The smell of incense and the sound of holy hymns filling the sanctuary cause my heart to swell and my eyes to tear up. This is why I continue to participate in the religion of my childhood, because for me it brings heaven to earth, where I can savor the moments before being pulled back to this world and her woes.
As a cradle Catholic, I have no memory of my baptism, no moment in my life where I can say, “This is when I was reborn, the moment everything changed for me.” I wish I could go to a river or lake and be submerged completely, have the water fill every orifice, feel my heart pound as I hold my breath just a little too long, then have gentle hands raise me out of the water, to break free, to be reborn and gulp air into my bursting lungs as though I have just emerged from my mother’s womb. And as I look up to the sky I too will see the heavens open before me and feel the fluttering of wings and the wind of the spirit and a quiet voice call me her “Beloved”.
* New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. [NRSVCE]