So what are we to make of this man wrestling with his identity?  He sets out on his life’s journey, like you or me, not knowing all the twists and turns that it may take.  He wonders how to be grounded, how to have the certitude he needs to walk confidently into unexplored parts of life’s woods.  When I feel disorientated or unmoored, drifting but not knowing where, approaching an overwhelming number of threats and disappointments, not knowing how to settle my mind…I just want to be stilled.  I want calm.  I want to know that at some fundamental level it’s going to be alright.  This is what comes to my mind as I contemplate this ancient feast, the Baptism of Jesus.  What meaning might there be in this ancient story? 

How Jesus’ People Experienced God

Jesus grew up in a rich spiritual tradition that informed his understanding of these human desires.  He learned to feel grounded.  A tree is grounded, that is, it takes its sense of place and its ability to grow and flourish from the fact that it is planted in something solid.  This earth is not like concrete of course, just something to hold up the tree.   It is a life-giving, organic system of life that nourishes the tree and that also draws from the tree.  There is a mutual exchange of life between the tree and the rich earth.   As elements of the tree and the earth pass back and forth between each other, it is not always clear where the boundaries are between the tree and the earth.  Without the connection to the earth, the tree would stop thriving.  We each have a need inside to be grounded in something that sustains us. 

Jesus Shared This Understanding

Jesus, standing in the Jordan, had a revelation.  It just came to him…that he was grounded in a living Mystery that kept pumping life into him as sure as his next breath or heartbeat.  This “pumping of life” was indistinguishable from the sense that this Mystery loved him, the Other is experienced as sheer gift. 

What is Goodness?

The Hebrews who raised Jesus did not think of goodness as a set of standards to be met.  They thought of goodness as the relationship they had with the Living One that grounded all of their thriving.  Jesus felt very tenderly, we know, toward this reality that he was grounded in.  Perhaps an image will help spell this out.  Imagine yourself enjoying the woods, perhaps fishing or hiking on a beautiful day, or perhaps looking up at stars at night.  Imagine that you become deeply touched by the beauty and the stillness and the utter awesomeness of all of the life in front of you.  Today your cares are far away and you are simply present to this “force of nature” which is in fact simply nature or reality and the majestic Grounding that permeates it.  And you are so touched by the closeness you feel to this beauty that you find yourself saying, “Dada” or “Mommy” or some similar attempt at speech that like a baby you simply speak impulsively hoping that the sound begins to shape the groundedness and that you are feeling.  I propose that this is how we think of Jesus’ preference for calling the Living One with the tender parental word, “Abba.”  He certainly was not thinking of his God as an old man in the sky; that was the miscreation of a later age.  Jesus was aware, we must presume, of what a million mystics have experienced, namely that he is grounded in something awesome and tender, empowering and loving.  “This is my child, I love him,” the inner voice said.

A Continual Source

We are told that from that day forward Jesus acted with a certain authority and power.  It may be like that for you or me—a major one time life experience.  Or it might be like a continual returning to the Source to hear the inner voice again and to be empowered to continue into the unknown.  Or, as with Jesus, it may be a combination of both.  We can walk into the woods knowing that we are grounded.  It’s an assurance, and it’s also like a power-source that we can tap into at any moment.  The Living One, in whom we are grounded, can do in us “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Living on a Prayer

Call this “living on a prayer” if you want.  It’s a powerful grounding, a true grounding.  And the only thing more wonderful than living on a prayer is living on a prayer…together in relationship with another and in community.  And then that ultimately opens us up to be in solidarity with the poor of the world who live on a prayer every day of their lives.

Baptism of Christ
Sts. Clare & Francis
January 11, 2014
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Mary J.I. on