I think that my generation has little sense of what the Jews call havdalah–a living sense of God’s delineative nature. That God separates this from that; sabbath from the beginning of the week; marriage from friendship; day from night. He is a God who separates peoples and nations as well for certain purposes. He calls out, and separates, or consecrates certain activities as well. The whole Jewish concept of mikvah or cleansing pools, from which baptism comes; was said in their tradition to have begun with Adam just outside the garden once He had already fallen. He washed in the rivers running from the garden in order to seek repentance and restoration with God. The waters were necessary as a way to separate himself from his own sin. Or to seek to be cleansed of them.
In Christianity, we use baptism as an entrance into the reality of Jesus life death and resurrection-in short, as an entry point into our new creation or new reborn self. The one born from above, as a new spiritual creature. That is why baptism usually was immediately performed after one “accepted” or believed in the Name of Jesus and recognized His Godhood. You see this with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Once the eunuch saw the truth by Philips illuminating the Isaiah text to him, he believed and was immediately baptized into the Name of Jesus.
Later after Pentecost came, you see certain communities had been baptized into Jesus Name, but not yet received The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s baptism is unique, in that it is spoken of as a separate but necessary baptism in the New Testament. It has a different purpose, and has to do with empowerment to grow into the fullness of this New Life of Jesus which has come into the new believer.
Back to mikvah. In Jewish life, mikvah pools are considered so essential–more so than even synagogue and torah study-because the pools and their use sanctify family life. They make it holy or, separated from other aspects of life. They, in short, sanctify married life, and thus perpetuate the Jewish community. The family is at the center of Jewish life, and the continuation of the Jewish race depends on that. So the various practices using the Mikvah pools, are a monthly necessity both for the wife and husband for different reasons.
The purification of the woman after menstration is one use; but also it serves a priestly purification function as well. Cleansing one, in preparation to be in God’s Presence. “I will sprinkle them with water and make them clean”. He says of the end times. But in the case of the mikvah, there is always total immersion. Every hair on the body must be submerged in the cleansing waters of the mikvah. The water itself must be rainwater-from a natural source, emphasizing this purity on every level present in the waters.
You see that even in the New Testament pools were also used for healing purposes, and cleansing. The earliest church structure found had a mikvah or baptismal fount in it as a separate structure. So you see this continued to be a physical and spiritual ritual in the early church. When we talk of baptism, we usually get caught up in all the historical controversies around the practice of baptism. But it is helpful to look at both the jewish and christian traditions to see what God’s intention was for the symbolic actions of the mikvahs or sanctifying pools used throughout the history of both religions.
Going back to our generation with its coming out of so much divorce and distorted images of family life; i wonder if the prioritizing of separating, delineating, and saying this is husband, this is wife, this is father, this is mother, this is daughter and son, this is friend, this is wife, this is spiritual father, this is spiritual child etc; is something we feel threatened by. In a time, when many children have had to parent their parents on some level–“parental inversion”; and others were not allowed to be children, or forced to take on adult levels of intimacy too early-either through direct abuse, or lack of one parent being present in their lives; i wonder if knowing God as the one who has clear distinctions in mind for each family member, and each stage of life, is something that we need. With so few threshold rituals in our times, telling children, for instance, when they become adults; and by extension, telling spiritual children, when they need to go through the Galatian 4 stage, and become heirs, not slaves. In short, there is a real need to distinguish what stage of spiritual growth we are at, and name and claim it, so to speak. Baptism at its core is saying, what you were, just changed! You have become a new creature in Christ, and the rest of your life is growing into that new spiritual skin.
It is about the God who differentiates. Can we sit with this aspect of God?
I do wonder also, if we are afraid to distinguish things, because it would mean that we were not in charge. That we would have to recognize and come under true spiritual authority. Our generation has a very ambiguous notion of authority; and not only distrust it, but does not even know when we ourselves have authority and could use it to bless. This of course, is not fully our fault, as the generation before us really deconstructed and even dismantled a true concept of healthy or even holy authority. And it has not been helped by the widespread abuse of authority in our day. Still, God makes clear distinctions-for instance, in His Kingdom, His Son has higher authority than any of the angels. If God just suddenly, said, well some of my angels rebelled, so lets give up the notion of authority, and every creature is going to have the same authority, the universe would fall apart, and He Himself would not be The Most High True God. The crisis in authority has a root in this fear of the God of delineation, and ultimately coming under His Authority. Of course there are huge ramifications in morality as well, if we don’t know God as the one who separates rape from planting a garden; in short, bad from good, we become seriously blind and sear our own consciences. There is a difference, and it should be becoming an ever increasing sensitivity within us in Christ.