Boston is dark in January. Very dark. At 5:30 p.m. light has
completely abandoned the city. Sure, there is a kind of fake fluorescent light,
a pale bluey glow, a TV light. But there is no authentic light, only illusion
of it. And illusions only make the matter worse.
My college motto is vox clamantis in deserto, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. It suits a college whose fame includes being the setting for the movie Animal House. Cry out in playful poetry. Cry out in inebriated bombast. Cry out amid the lone pines of New Hampshire.
Since ancient times, travelers have journeyed to sites of religious significance in order to deepen their faith. But I’ve never been much of a pilgrim. I was raised a Pentecostal, and in one regard our brand of faith was very modern: unlike most premodern people, we did not recognize any “sacred places.” For us, all places were alike to God because God had created them all.
Some of my favorite words from the United Methodist Church’s liturgy
for Holy Baptism are the first ones spoken: “Brothers and sisters in
Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s
holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
Several years ago I was invited to preach on this gospel passage from Matthew at the National Cathedral on the Sunday designated to honor the state of Hawaii. I struggled with the subject of Jesus’ baptism, partly because baptism is not an easy concept to explain, and this story seemed strange indeed.