I’m told that to increase your readership, you need to blog often. Ah well.
There is so much to say, but sadly I’ve forgotten a lot of it. However, here’s one snippet, and it’s all about water.
But first, the plan. I have a plan for the year. A plan that is slimmed down from last year’s marathon of 4 scripture readings every day. So this year, I’m spending the first six months reading through the prophet Jeremiah at a very leisurely pace, just a few verses each day.
Alongside that, I’m reading just a few verses from Mark’s Gospel each week. The same few verses every day of the week. I’m also trying to build in 20 minutes of silence each day. It’s a simple diet.
I’ve got a couple of other books that I’m reading alongside the scripture readings – Running Over Rocks, by Ian Adams. 52 short chapters – one for each week of the year, each one focussing on a simple spiritual practice.
And finally, Sounding the Seasons, a book of sonnets by the poet Malcolm Guite, one sonnet each week.
It feels good so far.
Oh, and I forgot – of course a psalm each day.
So, last Monday, I had three readings that included these words:
From Psalm 93:
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!
and from Jeremiah 2:
My people have … forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
and from Mark 1:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as he was coming up out of the water,
saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.’
It’s interesting that all three readings are in some way about water.
The fountain of living water
The waters of baptism
And as I thought more about the Gospel reading and the water of baptism, my mind went back to the very first words of the Bible, noticing three parallels between the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of Mark’s Gospel
Parallel 1 – Descending and Hovering
At the baptism of Jesus, is it the dove that is important, or the description of the dove descending ?
Maybe what’s happening here is answering the prayer of the prophet Isaiah – “O that you (God) would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1)
This descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove in Mark chapter 1 reminded me of something very similar in Genesis chapter 1:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Parallel 2 – Good and Pleasing
And, in Genesis chapter 1 we have the repeated refrain – and God saw that it was good, while in Mark chapter 1, we have God saying “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”
In Genesis 1 God sees what he has made, and it is good.
In Mark 1 God speaks a word of affirmation over the new thing that is coming in Jesus.
Parallel 3 – Thrown out and Tempted
Following the description of God’s work of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, the plot moves to the temptation of Adam and Eve, which results in them being thrown out of the Garden of Eden.
Following Jesus’ baptism, Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drives (or throws, banishes) Jesus out into the wilderness where he is tempted.
It’s as if the wilderness place is where humanity is, and it’s where Jesus goes to begin his work of winning humanity back. He goes to the place where we have to deal with the compulsions that drive us apart from one another. The hungers that have gone from the natural healthy desires to something twisted and broken.
And it’s here, where we dwell, that Jesus confronts and overcomes those desires – and is able to hold on to the knowledge of being a beloved son of God.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice these parallels. (Indeed, maybe I read it somewhere and forgot it, but it stayed in my subconscious?) But I do find it amazing, wonderful, inspiring etc that the start of the Hebrew Bible begins with God’s work of creation, and the start of the Christian Gospel begins with God’s work of New Creation, in which, at last, God comes to be present with us to lead us … not back to the garden, but ultimately onwards …
(But that’s another story)
So may you know, deep within you, that (as one wise person has said)
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more,
and there’s nothing you could do that would make God love you less.
And Finally, Finally
Here’s the sonnet by Malcolm Guite on the Baptism of Christ:
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
Grace and Peace.