This Is Water but We Need Baptism, Fire and The Holy Spirit Too !!

Was it through serendipity, a circuitous route searching through the internet , half formed thoughts on the Baptism of Jesus this Sunday, images of water and the hovering presence of The Holy Spirit  working through me that I came across the piece that follows ?

I don't know, but this video below in two parts is where my journey (so far) ended ..... and I will try and explain as I go along.....

(See my previous post here on Baptism of Jesus.)

David Foster Wallace has been described by some as the most brilliant American writer of his generation,  but tragically he committed suicide, aged 46 in 2008 by hanging himself. He had suffered from depression for over twenty years.
Only once did he give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address  "This Is Water ", "Some Thoughts on a Significant Occasion, About Living A Compassionate Life ", given in 2005 at Kenyon College.  

The speech captures Wallace's  intellect as well as his grace and compassion in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs and here is the video. 
The speech is now available in book form and is also cited in this new book published this last December 2010: "Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture "..................... 

So .... here is the difficult part what has all this got to do with Jesus ? !! 
Please bear with me as I try to explain.......

Wallace was not a  friend to religion nor did he hold much respect for a traditional sort of Christian morality; He denied the existence of capital "T -Truth" that Jesus claimed
but he was adept at communicating complex ideas clearly with some integrity.  I admired him because despite believing he would never find meaning he constantly and earnestly searched for it.

It is this part of his speech that attracts me most
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship---be it J. C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical prinicples---is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things---if they are where you tap meaning in life---then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
On one level, we all know this stuff already---it's been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.
Worship power---you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart---you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Bobby Maddex ( at Signs Of the Times) has this to say :
"But then, Wallace backed away from this line of thinking---perhaps afraid of the demands it might make on his own life, of what it could mean for his own worship of literary theory, and of postmodernism, in particular. "None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death," he told the students. "The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head."
 Maddex concludes :
Was it this inability to pursue to its conclusion an intuitive discovery of ultimate transcendence that resulted in the despair that would end Wallace's life?

I now believe that this is a distinct possibility, and it's why I ask God to have mercy on his soul."

So finally this is what I  have learnt :
Some people ask why it was that Jesus needed to be baptised ... maybe it was to show us that we have to give up our own sense of self to God; if even the Son of God had to acknowledge this, then it is obvious that it applies even more so to us.

After his baptism Jesus went straight to the wilderness for 40 days and grappled with the forces of this world that asked him to give up his divine autonomy to instead worship the devil. 

Perhaps that is why the baptism of Jesus was so necessary; not just to fulfill ancient  prophecies but because baptism allowed Jesus to publicly experience "This is The Water " at the start of his public ministry but significantly the Holy Spirit was there to infuse that experience and bless and guard it.

Jesus knew what lay ahead and already bore the shadow of the crown of thorns and the cross on his head and shoulders.

When John The Baptist said
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, it is clear to me that "This is the Water " is  not the final milieu where our existence can be explained. 
We need the Holy Spirit and we need the fire of God in our lives to carry us through . 

That fire is painful yet essential to purge us of our self will .

When David Foster Wallace said :

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day." there was a profound insight into the life of Jesus - because that too was what the short life of Jesus was about on this earth. 

The difference is that Jesus always knew He was about his Father's business and knew that true fulfillment of our humanity was dependent on giving up any thought of self reliance . 
He wanted to show us that essential humility to God in the physical act and spiritual spiritual reality of His own baptism.

Jesus knew that ultimately his life must be governed by God's will and not his own. 

The whole of human salvation history hinges on one heart-felt phrase from Jesus' lips in the garden of Gethsemane:

"Lord Let Your Will Be Done, Not Mine."

If my prayer is for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven , then I’m able to pray that my faithfulness to God will coincide with the faithfulness of God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit that manifests in a realm I cannot always see, or touch, but one which I believe somehow gives order and purpose to all life. 
When Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane begs his Father to let the cup pass from Him,  the focus is on Jesus’ willingness to remain faithful to God and God’s calling on his life. 
Jesus is the Son who learns obedience to his Father even if this faithfulness leads to his death

The specific beliefs I hold about God’s providence conditions the way I ask God to act in my life. So given my non-causal views on providence and my belief in free will and evolution, in what sense should I pray that God’s will be done?
I’m not too sure. If praying that God’s will be done is an expression of faithfulness to God, then perhaps I should pray that I will always seek God despite and within all  trying circumstances, and that I  will always try to act in a Christlike manner.
But this could be just another sort of ‘piety’ or quasi-Stoic resignation that  leaves me complicit with the status quo, complacently disguised as being resigned to God’s will when I could do more.
 But I also know that there are no other options for me- faithful submission, expressed through protests, frustration and tears, to the God who is capable of transforming people into the fulfillment of what we were meant to be is all that makes sense, even if I can't see too clearly the way ahead.

The video is in two parts. The full transcript of the speech is here

Part Two

1 comment:

Tim said...

Phil, at last I've got to this and my first reaction: "Wow." Wallace's always-extraordinary, soul-searching abundance shines fresh light on questions that flicker and fade in the busyness of life. And your questioning where fire and water fit into our faith sharpens the edges of a fundamental conflict--a tension we can't easily resolve.

Personally, I don't see one without the other. We need the water of repentance and confession. Our daily, repeated plunge into its depths follows Christ's assertion that baptism--literal and figurative--is our means of "fulfilling all righteousness." Yet the Spirit comes to the Church as a flame--an individualized flame that rests on each of us. It purifies us to walk in righteousness and lights our way, which often leads us back to the water. The elemental polarity is transcended by a unity of purpose, each serving its intention at the proper place and time for a common end: our spiritual clarity and growth.

This is profound stuff, Phil. You are brave to take it on and blessed to do it justice! Thank you.


PS: I'm steadily regaining the time and attention to get back to my regular reading. I pray you'll forgive my absence these past few weeks. It doesn't indicate a lack of interest or indifference. Hopefully soon I'll be back to a place where I can dig into all you've done here recently. I'm so anxious to catch up!