LITURGY AND LIFE
By Anne Strachan
Feast of St. John the Baptist
On my morning walk, a swallow dips and dives overhead.
A chickadee on a fencepost turns to watch me pass, its bright eyes returning
my gaze. Finally, near the end of this daily journey up hill and down
dale, I witness a bald eagle riding on currents of air high in a blue
sky. It feels like being swept along in a river of blessings, like standing
waist-deep in the River Jordan alongside John and Jesus. No doves to
report, but plenty of other feathery manifestations of God’s Spirit!
John the Baptist: his mother is Mary’s cousin; his
father is a priest called Zechariah. We celebrate the nativity of this
person who went on to baptize Jesus; John is the only saint to share
a nativity feast day with Mary (Nativity of Mary, Sept. 8), and Jesus
(Christmas, Dec. 25).
The people in Judea couldn’t believe that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s
child wasn’t going to be named after his father. “But his
mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ ” To quote
Scripture further, we might ask about our own children in today’s
world: “What then will this child become?” We pray and trust
that the hand of the Lord is with our children, as God is with John,
through both joys and trials.
John’s life choices might have challenged his mother’s
equilibrium. Some of us relate to Elizabeth as we watch our dearly loved
offspring head out into wilderness, be it mountain, prairie or bustling
city. But then, amidst inevitable misfortune, struggle, pain and mistakes:
profound gifts and unexpected blessings.
Elizabeth and Mary know that we have a vocation even before
our birth; we are chosen by God while still in the womb. It’s an
act of trust in God to believe and to find joy in this reality, even
as our children might struggle to find their way in an often overwhelming,
suffering and confused world.
I’m at an age where I have offspring who are almost 30 years old,
and when I think of John forging his path “in the wilderness” I’m
filled with a sudden flood of emotion that is not unlike a running river.
I can see the person John in my sons, and in my daughter; John as one
seeking to connect, humble yet strongly committed to a sense of truth.
Paula Huston writes: “John the Baptist, if ever he were tempted
by personal spiritual ambitions, clearly comes to see that these are
irrelevant. ‘What, then, will this child be?’ people asked
at his birth. He would be servant to one far greater than himself . .
. How can we find the road back to spiritual health, to become ‘strong
in spirit’ as John the Baptist did? A good way to begin might be
with the psalmist’s grateful profession: ‘I give you thanks
that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.’ ”
And yet, John struggles. He lives on locusts and wild honey.
He personifies the ancient prophets with his camel hair shirt. When in
prison, he sends people to ask if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. John wrestles
with doubt, even as he calls people to repent. He too knows fear in the
knowledge that he is a target for those in power. But he continues to
reach for and call out to God. He has faith in God’s son on earth, Jesus,
who happens to be his human — yet divine — relative: “And
as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that
I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to
untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’ ”
(Gerald Schmitz photo)
Rivers are a metaphor for the currents of life. Alison
Krauss sings: “As
I went down in the river to pray . . . studying about that good ole way
. . . And who shall wear the starry crown? . . . Good Lord show me the
way . . . O sinners let’s go down . . . Let’s go down, come
on down . . . O sinners let’s go down . . . Down in the river to
pray . . . ” Aware of it or not, we’re all immersed in life’s
river! And we share this life with John the Baptist and Jesus, Son of
the living God, who enters into earthly waters. Two young men welcome
and beckon all kinds of people — men, women and children — huddled
on a riverbank.
Life flows over, around and through us. We are in this
river and we are part of this river. As John, in a spirit of deep humility,
baptizes Jesus, we celebrate a sacramental moment with flowing water
and a breeze billowing from a bird’s wing.
The vision of John and Jesus immersed in the River Jordan with God’s Spirit hovering in the form of a dove — or a swallow, chickadee, or eagle — is natural and yet wholly divine. It portrays a profound message of salvation for all of us.
Strachan is married with three children and lives in Nakusp, BC. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, SK., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.