When I was two, I walked right off the edge of the dock into Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan, the ice was barely off the surface, my father snatched me out of the water, he was right there, but I was unafraid. I’ve never been afraid of water.
I was baptized on 28 May 1988. I was 10 years old. I was in the musty old Zion Apostolic Church in Winnipeg. There was a baptismal at the front of the church, just behind the altar. I walked down the steps in my tapered jeans, and clasped the hands of the balding young pastor. He asked me a few questions, he put his hand steady behind my back, and then he lowered me into the cold water, I felt at home. I rose up, water streaming from my freckled face. I never wrestled with that moment and through all of my questions, all of my doubts, all of my failures, I have never doubted that moment, there was water, I felt it, I went in, and I came out.
On that exact same day, in north Omaha, 10-year-old Brian was sitting on his mother’s bedspread, praying the words she prompted, inviting Jesus into his heart. Somehow, we feel connected because we share that day, that day when he crossed the threshold of faith, and I plunged into the water, while he prayed far away, the trajectory of our lives beginning a cosmic arc towards each other when we were just kids.
I almost always run away to the water. I wonder if it’s because I grew up in the water, swimming with my eyes wide open in the depths, alongside the lean seal bodies of my cousins and my sister. I wonder if it’s because I water-skiied, I canoed, I launched myself shrieking with abandon off of mid-lake docks. Then I wonder if it’s because of the way my faith looks at water baptism. I wonder if it’s because I cry when someone is baptised, when I hear them affirm the desires of another soul, to be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. I wonder if it’s because it’s the sight of someone submerging by choice, the burying of old things, the refreshing, the cleansing, the life from water. I like to swim in metaphors, sure, and I like the shock of cold water, it reminds my lungs to breathe, so I baptize over and over again, I’m coming up into something holy and gathered, something bigger than myself. I can watch the water of a plain and small lake, the way I can watch the bonfire move.
I sing old church songs when I’m at the water’s edge, but I’m silent, listening, when I’m submerged. And then I want to cry when my face breaks the surface.