As a professed follower of Christ, I’m supposed to have a lot of things in common with Jesus. The one thing I can nail down for certain in that regard is that we both happened to get baptized for the first time in the same river. Hashtag sweet brag hashtag holier than you. Just kidding on that second hashtag, but the social media reference phrase was begging for a second hashtag. I’m spiraling away. Get yourself together, Lemons.
The first time I was baptized was in December of 2000 (I don’t remember the exact date, which is very unlike me) in the River Jordan a few miles from the Sea of Galilee. [It’s a pretty fun fact in two truths and a lie for the Christian crowd. It’s often amazing how we use that game to humble brag our way into people’s esteem.] It was an extremely overcast day and there were rumors it was snowing in the Golan Heights; so needless to say, it was extremely cold in this desert nation.
At this particular baptism site, you changed into your swimsuit and then put on the thin white robes before heading to the river. If you’re a Christian, you’ve seen the images of what this looks like. Now insert ten year old me into one of those robes and viola! We sat on these frigid concrete benches and our pastor gave a short sermon. Looking back, it’s kind of interesting to see that I’ve forgotten the words, but remember every action vividly.
We filed down a concrete ramp into the river. As each new set of feet hit the water, a sharp intake of air followed by a short laugh followed. It was like stepping into a flowing glass of ice water. When it finally hit your waist, it was like the arctic itself was hugging half of your body. I remember being solemn as I turned on the ledge of the concrete walkway where my pastor stood, ready for the baptism.
He prayed with me. Again, I don’t remember a word he said; but I do remember the cadence of his words. Calming. Earnest. He tipped me back and the water rushed over my body.
It was instantly numbing. Every nerve in my body felt that moment. Every inch of my skin was alive. My mind snapped into focus and it was like every ounce of breath in my body dissipated. Less than a second later, I broke the surface with a gasp. In the picture, I look terrified. It was oh so cold. But that breath rushing back in, oh that breath rushing back in.
Fifteen years later, I’m standing on a cliff with the teal and navy streaks of the Mediterranean extending to the sunlit horizon in front of me. Waves are crashing on the cliffs and my skin is too tan to burn, but radiating heat. There is no reverent silence. Voices trickle down from the path above my head, from the people below the cliff on the boat ramps.
I take a healthy ten steps back from the edge, and my mind is blank. There is no one praying for me this time. I’m not entirely sure I even prayed for myself. I looked out over the sea and exhaled. There’s something about the scratchy of rough rock on bare feet as you begin to run.
When mom saw the video of this jump later, she called it a leap of faith.
My foot left the ground and my arms swung out and my legs contracted up. From a cross to a crouch, I flew out over the cliff edge. I wish I looked as cool as someone in the Matrix making this same move, but I’m still in love with the picture someone grabbed of it. It’s me, the cliffs, the sky, and the sea.
And oh was alive. And oh was I flying. For a moment, I was aware and in that moment I was happy. I was caught up in the sky and the breeze and the sun mingling on my skin as I plummeted towards the water. Craggy rocks rose to my left, a rounded cliff was behind my back. I was aiming for the sweet spot in the midst of danger, the teal water illuminated by the sun.
The immersion was sudden and loud and the water was invasive. Every inch of my skin sliced through the water. Every nerve in my body tingled with the impact. I felt it shoot up my nasal cavity and I felt the breath dissipate from my body. I kept sinking from the momentum, touching the bottom.
I think I was laughing well before I broke the surface. That’s how deep the well is, the well of grace, the well of love. No matter the momentum that gets you there in the deep, surrounded by dangers, you can’t touch the bottom. You can’t reach the bottom. And man, the breath when I broke the surface, how it rushed in.
Author’s Note: Written in 2015