“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Freedom can be a fearful experience! Freedom can open us to possibilities and experiences we only could dream of before. But perhaps most of us are fearful of such freedom and become comfortable with limitations. We become comfortable with fear, guilt and anger, of never being good enough or smart enough to be happy and free. Why is this so?
One of our most fearful identities is the idea that we are God’s Divine, Holy Son or Daughter, completely forgiven, set free to love and share kindness with others. We think of this as only Jesus and declare ourselves unworthy. And yet in our baptisms we are declared to be God’s Sons and Daughters. In the story of Jesus’ baptism it says heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.” This is what every parent feels or should feel with the baptism of themselves or their children. You and I are also God’s Sons and Daughters; we are the Beloved in whom God is well pleased! Thus we have a “divine right” be happy, free and loving! But why can’t we? Why can’t we accept this as our true identities?
It begins with our being born with bodies and its ego identity with such a form. This is part what some call the “separation” or “the Fall.” We were given names to help us be identified with a particular gender, race and nationality. We become identified with political parties and with particular religious identifications. But all these identities are not our Truth Selves; these are only outward identities of our time bound and earthbound walks as bodies. With these identities we live in a world of dualities, what some call a bipolar world! It is a world of opposites, of happy one day but sad and angry the next, a world of winning and losing, of male and female, rich and poor, those who are free and those who are not. Into this world fear is an important part of maintaining these identities, of separating ourselves from what we believe we are not, God’s Children.
For example, why is it so hard for us to forgive others when the treat us unfairly, call us names, shun us, deceive us? We feel we must protect our identities, which are the ego/body selves. “Forgive us our debts, and sins, as we forgive others their debts and sins!” Sure, we say it every week if not every day, but who among us can do it? As God’s children, as One Spirit connected our Creator, nothing can hurt or harm us; we are eternally secure. But we forget this quickly and live lives of being defensive, angry at others, keeping scores against hurts against us. For the body to protect itself, it must do such things! It is a “dog eat dog” world. But scriptures teach we are in this world but not of it, right?
Joseph Campbell, the brilliant teacher of religious mythology, once said the problem with religion is that nobody seems to live it! He names only two, Jesus Christ and the Dalia Lama! I think there are more but the point is, these lived with love and forgiveness of their enemies. Most of us go after them; we get even! So we fear of losing what we have gained and have surrounded ourselves for security. Not only is fear important but we feel guilt as well, guilty for not doing enough, working hard enough,
In our Scriptures and other traditions being born into our bodies on earth is often referred to as the “first birth”. But we can have a second birth which is an awakening to ourselves as God’s children, forgiven of all our sins, our wrong identities and being now one with God forever. This is the true meaning of the word “resurrection,” which simply means to awaken, to awaken to our Divine Center and Being. Baptism is a sign of that new beginning and a reminder of our true identities as God’s children. Baptism, as a sacrament, is an outward sign of our inner being or awareness.
It often is spoken of as two baptisms; the first is water baptism, which we administer to children and adults declaring them to be God’s Children. Many never get past that one, however. As we read today, the next baptism is “Spirit Baptism” when the realization hits us and we experience the true freedom of being beyond all limitations of bodies and matter!
However, many of us are like Nicodemus, who even being a religious leader did not understand this experience as he came to Jesus by night. Jesus told him he must be “born again,” which is a phrase to awaken to our higher identity as spirit, one with God’s Spirit; born once into bodies, born again into the awareness of Spirit!
In the late nineteenth century the Pennsylvania coal industry used to mine mules to pull coal carts to elevators. In Indiana County, one of the largest mining areas, they were very popular. The mules became very comfortable walking in the shadows and darkness of the mine tunnels. But when they were taken to the mine openings workers placed blinders over their eyes for several minutes until they could become accustomed to the sunlight. In years of identifying with bodies alone, we too become shocked and blinded by the sudden appearance of sunlight or the understanding we are the Sons and Daughters of God. The shock of losing our little self for the Eternal Self can feel overwhelming.
Much of this inner awareness may have been lost in the Fourth Century with the legitimatizing of the Christian Church. Faith in God became more of an outward faith in creeds, in beliefs, in liturgies and doing the right things in the forms proscribed by the church. Rather than being told the Christ was in all peoples everywhere, they were taught that only by correct belief in creeds and forms of living could there be any hope of one’s being saved now and in the future afterlife. Creeds made it very clear Jesus himself was the only Son of God. And so that which was eternal was made into that which was limited, exclusive and temporal. Opponents to these revised teachings were later killed, martyred, banned as heretics and crusaded against. Much of that understanding remains with us to this day.
However, with the discovery of the Egyptian Nag Hammadi documents in 1945, a renewal of understanding is spreading across Christendom. These were Christian documents hidden during the late Fourth century from a large-scale destruction of Scriptures which did not correlate with the newly canonized ones in the Fourth Century. With the discovery of these documents and translations into English and other languages, we now have access to alternative early Christian teachings about our inner Christ. Such scriptures emphasize our understanding, or gnosis, of who we truly are.
Concurrent with these translations has been the rapid decline in normal traditional Christian churches along with the rapid increase of the Eastern religions with their emphasis on inner knowing. Recently I read Buddhism is the fastest-growing religious practice in the United States, growing over 15 times since the 1960’s. The rate since 2000 continues to grow rapidly with huge crowds from universities turning out to welcome and hear the Dalia Lama. Their forms and words primary teach awakening to the Divine Center which is our True Self, our part of the Eternal Divinity. We experience this peace and freedom by living as if our true selves were eternal, non-material, spirit and free. Thus we can forgive those who speak evil or us or even harm us, because as Spirit, as God, we are indestructible, eternal and free. To me Buddhism’s rapid rise represents a large vacuum left in traditional Christianity, which in my thinking, need not be.
This is a part of the fear in understanding baptism as awakening to our inward Christ. It becomes the same Universal Presence in all people! If there is a Christ within us who is a part of the eternal God, that Entity is love, kindness, and eternal patience. But there is great fear of losing our “specialness,” of losing our special identity and basic beliefs and tenants as both individuals and members of traditional churches. We would rather fight in order to be right! We would rather be right than happy and free.
Several years ago when he was a boy, Prince Philip said he hated being known as the Queen’s son. He just wanted to be a commoner and to be recognized as such rather than as one who was a part of a Royal line. But as hard as he tried to be just one of the commoners, he could not escape his identity. Everywhere he went somebody would point out, “Hey there is the Queen’s son, Prince Philip.” He finally quit fighting his identity and accepted his role as a member of a Royal family. And I think he has fulfilled that role quite well.
We too can fight as long as we want in rejecting our identities as God Sons and Daughters. But the identity will ever go with us, haunting us with invitations to come Home to the eternal peace which is rightfully ours. Beneath all of our pride in what we consider to have been our accomplishments, remain those sins of loneliness, the rejection of our oneness with that which is eternal. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, “….I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith!” (Philippians 3:8-9)
In 1931, while building a new road, a Buddhist statue was discovered, roughly covered with plaster mud, and brought to Bangkok, Thailand for display. Twenty years later in 1951 some of the plaster cover broke away and it was discovered that beneath all of the dried mud the statue was solid gold! The statue was studied and later dated from the Thirteenth Century when the Burmese had invaded the land of Thailand. They concluded that the gold statute, in order to be saved from destruction, was overlaid with the plaster and remained hidden for nearly 600 years. Today that golden Buddha statue remains on display in a small city just north of Bangkok.
Beneath all of the façade of our body ego identification, with its fleeting transitions through youth, middle age and sunset years, with all of its sufferings, accomplishments, winnings and defeats, there is a Center which is eternal. It is the Golden Center of Christ symbolized by our baptisms seeking to awaken us to that which is eternal, our True Identities. And it is in all peoples of earth, men and women, gay and straight, rich and poor, smart and not so smart, those who are called Christian and those are not, beyond all race and beyond all nationality, and it is You. And God is well pleased! Live in this awareness, sharing forgiveness, love and compassion to all beings, and you will not only be at peace, but be a force for peace in this transient world.