In response to the previous post, Tyler asks a question about why my writing here has shifted away from more philosophical interests and toward more of an emphasis on faith. I actually haven’t noticed a pronounced shift in my writing, to be honest, but I am not always the most reliable or accurate assessor of myself, so I will happily leave such questions to others. I provided a long-ish answer to Tyler’s question in the comment thread of the previous post, but I think the shorter answer just walked out of my office door.
A young person—not even twenty—who I had never met before simply drove up to the church, walked into my office, and told me they wanted to be baptized. Just like that. No church background, no formal connection to any religious tradition… nothing. Just a sense of emptiness and need, a weariness of drifting, a haunting experience of absence, an inarticulate hope. No clearly formulated expectation or desire, just a general sense that something is missing and that somehow this something has to do with God.
It was a little surreal, to be honest, and I was embarrassed by my fumbling and bumbling response. I asked to hear a bit of their story, talked a bit about how Mennonites understand baptism, scheduled further meetings and conversations. All well and good, I suppose, but perhaps a better response would have been, “Hallelujah!!” Or a hug. I told them how encouraged I was to hear the kinds of questions they were asking and that I was very excited to explore baptism with them. But it somehow seemed kind of limp… like it didn’t reflect the gravitas of the moment… Or something like that. As I watched out my window as this person drove off, I thought about the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” the Ethiopian asked? Not much, it turned out. Maybe, like the story in Acts, an impromptu baptism would have been the appropriate response!
At any rate, I have been thinking about this remarkable experience in the context of the previous post and the conversation around reason and faith. Reason is important, certainly, and I am grateful for it. Reason can even be one of the modes through which God draws people to himself. But it is not the only one. Not even close. Sometimes it is simply a raw recognition of our smallness and our need. Sometimes it is an inexpressible hunger for forgiveness. Sometimes it is paying attention to longing and desire. Sometimes it is weeping and raging against the experience of divine absence or being dazzled by a vision of hope. Sometimes we have no idea who we are or what we want or how we will get to the place of deep acceptance, peace, and joy that we intuitively feel we were made for… but we know that somehow all of this need and desire and longing is bound up with the person of God.
And so we take a step. We put ourselves out there. We make a call, we walk through a door, we ask a question, we say a prayer. We leap.
Whether it is “rational” or not.
Maybe you missed the “gravitas” (man that word is like Adele…it’s everywhere these days) of the moment, maybe not. In any case God will work through you, you are a faithful servant.
Besides, you strike me as a dutiful confessor. 🙂 If you think it appropriate to your next encounter, you’ll make up for it.
Yeah, love relationships change everything. Your right, Ryan. “We leap”.
Thank you, Paul.
Kierkegaard would be proud! 😉
From a mystical perspective,Ryan.This was a Defining Moment…for both you and the young person.
enough mysticism already
not enough gravitas I suspect
did you tell this person how difficult it is to ‘land’ their leap?
did you happen to mention that following through on this leap is impossible
did you mention that while they may be experiencing euphoric feelings of gratitude and devotion they will soon come to know that the same leap that they have taken has been taken by millions of North Americans with almost indistinguishable result in our culture – especially here in North American Disney-Gospel-Land. (And before you object too strongly consider the project of finding substantive evidence in the social sphere of the difference that Christian faith is making).((I mean Christians couldn’t even get a Mormon elected – where’s the charity in that)
Whether you can challenge me on that point or not…
…did you suggest to this person that following Christ – if properly understood means a denial of almost every aspect of the values we hold so dear?
Did you ask them whether they were ready to forsake consumerism, materialism, and gluttony?
Did you ask them to commit to staying married? Did you ask them to be hospitable to the poor? Did you describe in painstaking detail the need for patience that they will require from fellow believers over differences of opinion on Scripture or the DaVinci Code?
I suspect not.
And appropriately so.
But an overly resounding, “Hallelujah!” is also an appropriate omission. A little bubble bursting should be common practice for an astute clergy – well done!
Nope, I didn’t. Did someone tell you all of this before you got baptized? Or was your baptism one stage in an ongoing journey characterized by a wide variety of questions and answers and numerous ups and downs?
“Or was your baptism one stage in an ongoing journey characterized by a wide variety of questions and answers and numerous ups and downs?”
..great counterpoint Ryan,Touche!.and in fact,we could say the journey started long before baptism .. and even though we enjoy taking credit for the initiative,The Divine Impulse itself is the gift of God.. As we say in AA, “God was doing for us,what we could not do for ourselves”..
I suspect there will be time to renounce the world, the flesh and devil before entering the waters of baptism. I am a big fan of catechesis before baptism, especially when you don’t know what sort of understanding this person has of the Christian tradition. Granted God-Fearing-Eunuchs need no lengthy instruction but I would want to make sure there is at least some understanding of what kind of God, God is and how what Christ did matters. I am not sure that I am advocating for ‘reason’ as much as rootedness. Spiritual practices abound but we should know what they mean. Great post.
Well said—I enthusiastically agree. “Rootedness.” I like that word very much.
Perhaps the response Ryan intuits isn’t a theological one, at least not in the first place, it is simply relational.
Somebody needed to be appreciated and affirmed for finding the courage to make a rather startling confession of “emptiness and need”. In a strange place to a strange man. The theology can come later. Christ himself simply honoured and fulfilled. Teachings came after.
Whatever the reasons for a twenty year old coming to a Pastor for Baptism, I don’t imagine a theology to be their first need or concern.
theology certainly not
but praxis I dare say that we are accosted all too often by smorgasbord-a-licious identification with a multiplicity of social frames which result in almost not change in behaviour. If Jesus is worth following at all it ought to be a some significant cost to ones lifestyle…
out-right rejection is certainly not in line in this case – I was reflecting on the sense that resounding exuberance was not expressed to this person and that the fumbling toward engagement might have been closer to a good response than it appeared to the giver.
I hope leaps are risky but not blind…
“fumbling toward engagement might have been closer to a good response than it appeared to the giver.”…I like what you said here, P. An honest “fumbling towards” doesn’t get the appreciation it often deserves.
Yeah, it is valid to distinguish praxis from theology and I too am discouraged regarding the discrepancies between, “Talk and Walk”.
For me it has been the relationships I was given and the relationships I have entered or been invited into (good and bad) that have directed my choices and formed my character. Learning this truth about myself has led me to re-evaluate and re-orient my relationship, with relationships. :). I am still too new to the process, (6 or 7 years in, the last 2 earnestly so) to give a comprehensive overview but I will say this;
1. Pardon the Van Morrison riff but it’s “into the mystic” we go my boyo! Everything absolutely, everything of truth and beauty that was intended to be expressed by you in this life, depends on you being intimate with Christ.
2. When things get f’d, remember point #1
3. Everything else is contingent, until it returns back to Him that made it.
4. The Argo’s wont fumble anything today!! Toronto 27 Calgary 21.
.”Everything absolutely, everything of truth and beauty that was intended to be expressed by you in this life, depends on you being intimate with Christ”…
…an outstanding summation Paul, ..this puts an end of our vain and profane philosophical babbling… It’s the proverbial “End of the Road”…