Friday night I held Eleanor’s small, perfect, pajama-clothed body against me to warm her and to be warmed by her as we stood outside on a rooftop and listened to human beings pour music out of their insides and out of their (mostly stringed) instruments. Ellie watched wide-eyed and happy. She cooed and sang and I felt her small head vibrate under my warm hands which perched atop her head in the attitude of blessing, covering her ears to muffle the sound and offering what heat or fire I could. The songs they sang were mostly about light and water. The water ones washed around my thoughts:
Now Jordan’s banks they’re red and muddy,
And the rolling water is wide.
But I got no boat, so I’ll be good and muddy,
When I get to the other side.
And when I pass through the pearly gate,
Will my gown be gold instead?
How many times did ancient Israelites cross the river Jordan into a new life, an unknown? Joshua’s priests, hoping against hope that this swelling spring river would stop when the soles of their feet hit the wetness. As a heap. Those priests carrying their precious ark got a little wet, a small splash on the robes, but the others passed over dry-shod to the unknown of those high walls of Jericho. A new life. Utterly different from the wilderness they had just left. Of course, their fathers had passed through the waters as well. From slavery to freedom. From relative comfort to uncertainty, too. And Elijah crossed that same river to board his chariot of fire, off to a life of certain light. A new and different ministry. But he left behind poor Elisha to pick up the mantle and cross back—lonely, confused, uncertain. He walked into a world of miracles, though. They usually did. And then the Savior walked into that river a carpenter’s obedient Son and walked out the very Son of God. Well, or so it seemed to His mystified neighbors.
And there was this song: Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. God’s gonna trouble the water.
A man sat by the pool of Bethesda—the pool of the house of mercy—waiting for an angel to trouble the waters. Troubled waters bring healing. But the waters came to him. A woman sat by a well, cracked like the worn jar in her hands. The Son of God said to her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” How? You have nothing to draw with. “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” This woman spoke with the embodiment of Living Waters. The waters had come to seep into and soothe her broken soul. “Give me this water.”
So, then, just this: Maybe the water meant so much because I had come to that music from the baptism of a student of mine—a bright, glistering, good young woman who has waited a long time for this. It was good for us to be there. Baptism is a death and a birth at the same time. Every crossing of the waters is. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” But this burial is into life itself, not in earth or under stone, but we are immersed in water, enveloped in life. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Newness of life. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” To die into living waters and to emerge transformed. The very air is different.
I don’t know the quality of life we will enjoy in the next world, but I feel somewhat certain that it will be life “coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” There will likely exist certain parallels between this life and that—for life is life. But we will glow. We will know. Life elevated. Death will be a birth into a newness of life. Resurrection always follows a passing away.
So, too, I suppose that the quality of Shain’s life will change dramatically after being immersed in that font of living water. She will breathe differently. When she came mewling into this world and screamed her first breath of mortal air, she began to experience something unparalleled in her existence. From the light of God into this diffused, slanted earthly light. But now embodied. Able to hold a hand and to hug a friend. To smell the wispy fresh-washed hair of an infant. That former life surely held its glories. But without dying to that life, I could never have experienced this.
For the past two days, I have bathed in a flow of Spirit and words. I love living apostles and prophets. My heart has hummed and sung and glowed. This new life. This new life.
When I was born, I was given a new name and a family. Every birth provides these gifts. My name identifies, distinguishes, and associates me. Shain too received a new name at baptism. She took upon her the name of Jesus—distinguished from the darkness of the world by her new relationship with the Light of the World and associated with the fellowship of the Saints. This is a family of open arms. She will stumble as she begins to walk in newness of life. She will stutter as she speaks with the new tongue—the tongue of angels. But she will grow up in this new life. She has come to the water’s edge. And she has crossed. I have come to the water’s edge now several times. Every crossing brings death, cleansing, and a resurrection to newness.