I have been fascinated for years about the way the brain has a way of freezing our experiences through our senses into a fine reference point. If I smell transmission fluid starting to burn it takes me back to my first car that was faulty with it and my first baby was going to need secure travel for a delivery within a month. My clients in addiction recovery may have slammed heroin with a best friend with a rare shirt. They see it at the grocery store and it takes them to three years ago and they have a craving. If I hear “I Got You Babe” I think of courting my wife and hearing it then.
But what about the brain, senses and faith? There are rituals that come with most religions even if some do not see it. Often there is a context of learning by doing. If we look at early and consistent traditions and teachings of Christianity we can see such cerebral contexts spread through the limbic system.
One example is in baptism. Jesus did not see the baptism practice to entirely go into the dust bin of history but wanted it to be universally applied.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
This was to be a ritual but by no means empty.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit (John 3:3-6).
In the Didache, written between 50-110 AD, there is much detail is given beyond the Great Commission baptism reference (Matthew 28:18-20) too much for it to be just a symbol.
Concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first rehearsed all these things, “baptize, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” in running water; But if thou hast no running water, baptize in other water, and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” And before the baptism let the baptizer and him who is to be baptized fast, and any others who are able. And thou shalt bid him who is to be baptized to fast one or two days before (Didache Chapter 7).
It is full of context on the nature of the Trinity and allows for the integration of physical hunger which can mirror spiritual hunger, physical cleansing which mirrors spiritual cleansing and being prepared holistically to take the meaning in. And for water to touch the body as a sacred thing is in one manner of speaking more than once. In many traditions of Christianity one can walk into the sanctuary, touch ones forehead with water, make the sign of the cross and reaffirm the Blessed Trinity and the relation of this connection to ones baptism.
We do damage to the context of scripture and ancient tradition if we see this as only ceremony. Baptism is an experiential reference point for the person and the surrounding Christian community. But it needs to be understood in context of the big picture of all of God’s plan for the covenant people in Christ and a heavenly source. If we miss seeing it as heavenly and Christ centered, we miss what is meant to both symbolize and, most importantly, substantively connect: God’s kingdom has come as one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). It is to be known as a united sacrament for what is called the mystical Body of Christ. Such is a reason that many times in the book of Acts Christians were first referred to as “followers of the Way”. Christians are people who are born again in Christ by both water and spirit and in such matter and form can be born again to the divine and human natures of Christ.