By Reverend Clare Morgan
Preached to the beloved faithful at St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage, Vancouver
Most of you know that last weekend I attended the People of Faith and Friends against Kinder Morgan event on Burnaby Mountain to participate in a nonviolent blockade of the gate onto the work site. It was a truly inspiring act of political resistance that made me proud to be a Christian, especially an Anglican Christian, in the Pacific Northwest at this watershed moment in human history.
I decided that despite the weather forecast of near constant showers, I was going to bring my bodhran – an Irish drum, given to me by my father before he died. I didn’t want it to get damaged by the rain, but I wanted the chance to drum with the elders, and it was the only portable drum I had. Plus there was something beautifully syncretistic, beautifully…Anglican…about bodhrans and Coast Salish drums playing together.
So we marched up the path, first toward the Kwekwecnewtxw, or the Tsleil-Waututh Watch House, and then finally up to the gate itself. We sang as we marched – protest songs, old union anthems, hymns, and First Nations chants from all over Canada. One of these, an Anishiinaabe song called “the Water Song,” alternated between a steady, heartbeat rhythm and a lively exuberant one. We were told that it was sung “in the language of the Water People,” and that the switching between rhythms was a reflection of how water is in real life. I learned later that this song was used to open some traditional ceremonies as the people prepared themselves. I made a mental note to ask Bishop Mark Macdonald if any of the indigenous Anglican churches use it during baptisms. That would be some sweet inculturation right there.
As we came to stand before the gate, the rain came back, and though it only really poured in a couple of short bursts, it was steady and constant throughout the rest of the day. I got soaked, and my drum got soaked. The skin became so waterlogged that when I hit it, it just made a sort of inept “flud” noise, and I could actually see it vibrating.
The rain dampened no-one’s spirits, though. In fact, quite the opposite: as we prepared to sing a new song, one of the leaders said, “Anyone notice how the rain keeps coming harder? We’re blessing the water; it’s saying, ‘You bless me, I’ll bless you.’”
A lot of us have close connections with elements in nature like earth, wind, fire, and water, or with trees and mountains. What I think is so interesting, though, is that there are a lot of spiritual-but-not-religious brothers and sisters who will say they don’t come to church because the outdoors is all the church they need. There’s this belief that church is a place where we talk about what happens in the worlds beyond our sight, or spirits that exist outside of our physical perceptions, rather than a place where we contemplate the solid and concrete. We Anglicans do a little better, and we talk a pretty good game about bread and wine, but aside from Earth Day and Thanksgiving, we often don’t talk about what some ancient scholars called The First Revelation, or creation. Many of us look at indigenous spiritualities with longing, wishing for that closer connection with the created order.
But we have this wisdom in our tradition, which we can claim fully with integrity.
It’s not just that we use water to baptize.
The act may be greater than the sum of its parts, but we cannot discount the parts as objects.
For one thing, the water of baptism is not just water from the tap, or even the living water from local sources that the Salal and Cedar community uses.
All water is the water over which the Spirit of God moved in the beginning.
All water is the water of the sea that was parted for the people of Israel in the exodus.
All water is the water which parted along the brow of our Beloved as he rose up, freshly baptized by John, to be welcomed with open arms by the Holy Spirit, once again resting over the face of the deep, basking in the sunshine of a holy smile – the Beloved who came by water and blood.
All water is not only a blessing, but a living thing whose life is unfathomable to us, the raw material for all life, a most powerful symbol of not only Genesis fertility, Exodus fidelity, and Gospel favour, but really our best instructional archetype of nonviolent resistance, wearing down the hardest substances with its own body, its own strength, and always making use of the smallest possible crevice.
I find when I think of it like that, water sounds like the best friend earth has ever had.
And maybe in that way, water is a little bit like…Jesus.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
It is astonishing enough to contemplate a God who comes among us, wrapped in our own precious flesh, for the sole purpose of loving us more intimately; a sacred presence who says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”
In Eastertide, we talk about how we are redeemed in the resurrection. But we have to remember that that’s not just about humanity. It’s about all of this – the whole universe. And that includes water, a powerful symbol of chaos and the fearful unknown for ancient cultures. We have been reconciled not just to God but to each other – human to human, human to animal, human to plant, human to element, human to ocean. Water is now so much more than an object, so much more than a servant to our needs, and so much more than a fearful thing. Like Jesus water constantly teaches us as well as feeds us with what we need to live, body and soul.
And of course, this commands not only awe but respect.
Because remember, we like Peter are being called to cry out, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
It’s a rhetorical question, y’all. No-one withholds the water, not from anything or anyone. My drum is a testament. My soggy boots are a testament. Seaside cliffs and limestone caves are a testament.
In this waning season of Easter, we are called to remember or perhaps look toward our baptism. Remember our brother John the Baptizer told us that first you get baptized with water – but what comes next? As we begin to move toward Pentecost – which is in two weeks – we look toward that second blessing, the wild and untamed blessing of fire.
And you gotta have both.
It sounds cute to say that water and sunlight is what makes plants grow, because sunlight sounds so pleasant. But we wouldn’t have that sunlight without the biggest most unquenchable fire in the galaxy. They have to be held in balance.
We need water and fire to be born of God. The Holy Spirit visits us in both, and we remember her in the waters of baptism and in the story of the cross and the spear, with the blood and water flowing forth – John the Evangelist’s story of the literal birth of the church – and in the story of the gathered faithful suddenly crowned with fire and unable to contain her voice within their clay vessels, overflowing with power as water jars once surely overflowed with wedding wine.
What does all this mean for us right now?
Maybe it’s time to embrace this part of ourselves and our tradition, and let it shape us like water shapes a stone. Take some time to contemplate what it means to be called into covenant not just with the divine but with all creation. We can do this because we live in Coast Salish territory and that’s the ancient law of the land, but we can also do it because the Anglican Church has those deep Celtic roots and that’s in the DNA, and the Christian Church has those deep Jewish roots and that’s in the DNA too.
If this is so, it should have a pretty profound impact on how we live.
I invite you to come forward to the baptismal font here, if you like, and shake hands with your friend.