What do Baptisms and Belly Flops have in common?

I recently made the mistake (oops – I mean the choice) to join Facebook.  Mostly, I wanted to see some pictures of a friend’s pool house that now had six tons of tree resting through its roof.  [I am still figuring out the “friend-ing” thing – so be patient if you have a request in to me for that.]  Besides the pictures of my friend’s pool house, I was able to see some pictures from my days at Christian Family camp this past summer.  Though it seems a dim memory this cold, cold weekend, the first week of Camp was incredibly hot.  And so, in place of the usual “Olympics” events held on a sweltering ball field, we had the first ever “water” Olympics.  What you need to know is that the final Olympic Sport was the Belly Flop contest.  Ooh Yeah!  And I’ve now seen the pictures on a camp Facebook page to prove it…

It struck me back then, and still strikes me now, that people’s approach to Belly Flops and to the Sacrament of Baptism share many things in common.  So think of the last time you did a belly flop or watched someone else do it – what do you remember about that experience?

First, some people, no matter how they try, approach the water “protecting themselves”.  No matter how hard they try, the knees come up, the arms fold in, in that instinctive habit to keep themselves safe.  So, too, with Baptism.  Often, people approach that water wanting to keep ourselves ‘safe’ and ‘protected’.  “I’ll follow you Jesus, as long as it doesn’t cost us too much.” We do the easy things our baptism requires of us, like going to church on Sunday, but avoid that which calls us to deeply hear the voice that calls us “Beloved”.  If we really realized what our Baptism calls us to be – who we really are – God’s beloved – we’d realize, like Isaiah, that we are called to the Victory of Justice.  And that we cannot rest until everyone knows that victory.

Secondly, you can’t do a good belly flop “elegantly” can you?  There is something about that experience that is all about abandonment, all about a moment of throwing yourself completely into the water.  So, too, with Baptism – you can’t do it “elegantly”.  We are immersed into a life that is all about abandonments and surrender and letting go into a relationship with God.

  • A recently married student gave a talk where they paralleled the commitment of marriage to our baptismal commitment.  “No one on their wedding day says: I take you for better or for worse – but not too much worse, and if you snore, all bets are off and if you spend more time at the office, I’m out of there.  I take you for richer and poorer – but nothing less than 70K a year, until death, or my whim do us part.  It’s not how it works, in marriage or in Baptism.”  And now, she and her husband are in Montero, Bolivia, for the next two years, as missionaries – because they both threw themselves ‘inelegantly’ into the waters of baptism…

Finally, you have to know that there will be pain associated with the experience.  The picture of Jeff Jansen, the winner of the contest says it all – arms open wide, back arched at just the correct angle – you knew that his belly [and it was a big belly] was going to bear the brunt of the assault…

So too, with baptism –we are promised that there will be pain.  St. Paul tells us:  Are you not aware that you who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death?”

Sometimes that death is ‘mild’ – like the choice of a parent to drive a son to and from a social gathering, even though it is inconvenient.  Or a single mom’s choice to herd the four kids to church on Sunday morning when it would be so much less a hassle to stay in bed.

Other times the ‘death’ costs more.  I had a conversation with a woman who gave up a chance for a part time job offer with health benefits, because she found out that some of the things this organization stood for went against Catholic teaching.  She is still job searching.

In a few moments, you’ll have the opportunity to experience, not the impact of a belly flop, but the sprinkling nonetheless of the waters of our baptism.  And you have a choice – will you protect yourself from what those waters mean, what they call you to?  Or will you boldly enter into that embrace of baptism – and throw yourself into all that being a Son or Daughter of God demands of you.  The choice is yours…

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