Hand Dipped

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, November 2009
– PDF version –

I reluctantly dip my fingers into our small baptismal font when I enter our chapel before Mass. There are many reasons for my hesitation. The water itself is the first problem. No matter how often we change the blessed water in the porcelain bowl, some people will use it to wash their hands, faces and belongings.

A scum forms along the edges when a mentally ill woman washes her plastic rosary in the font. Another person puts wildflower pedals, grass and dirt in our bowl of life. Rough dirty hands of a homeless man dip into the same waters as the manicured fingernails of the executive secretary from across the street.

The water is not my only hesitation. Some days I am not sure I want to dip my hands into the water because faith is just too difficult. My reluctance to put my fingers in the water is a reminder of my hesitation to open my life to God. I have a deep reservoir of resistance. My resistance accumulates here in our urban chapel because I hear every day the unanswered prayers of people living on the streets. I see firsthand the effects of our culture’s blind attitudes about healthcare. My hands shake with fear as I dip my fingers into the white bowl remembering Jesus’ baptism and realize I am being called to live and serve well beyond my comfort or capability.

I hesitate for a moment going to the font because I also am aware of my own lack of courage. I feel the cool water on my fingers and the sting of guilt on my soul. The water splashes up fear in me about being a priest in such a place of rawness and fragility. On most days I do not feel prepared to enter into relationships with people who challenge me so much.

I also feel the challenge of the Gospels in these new weeks of Ordinary Time. Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine shows me again that I must turn my reluctance to dip my fingers into baptismal water into real service. The water in our simple font must also be turned into direct care for people who cannot serve themselves. The shallow font is deep with hope for people if I could just get over myself. My wet fingers begin the challenge to ready my heart to sip from the Cup of Salvation.

The Gospel from Luke completely challenges me. I hear Jesus stand up in his place of prayer and declare liberty to captives, sight to the blind and glad tidings to the poor. He has been anointed to say things I experience here every day. If I dip my fingers into a baptismal bowl, does this mean Jesus will cure our addictions and take away the horrific effects of mental illness? I wait with wet fingers and sweat on my brow for the answer.

Jesus’ words always confused people. His prophetic words, healings and miracles stirred up people’s fear. He tells me that no prophet is accepted in his native place. So I rely only on Joseph’s Son to show me what to say to a young woman who sells her body to pay rent for a rat-infested apartment. I wait for Jesus’ words to respond to a young man who sleeps at our door who speaks to me about being sexually abused by family members. There are days that I want to rise up with fury and toss any notion of faith into the Willamette River in downtown Portland. I hear the prophets telling me to be patient as I wash my fingers in our dirty bowl.

I splash water on my body and I also feel the tug of the nets thrown into the Lake of Gennesaret. The disciples were making a living doing what they knew best. They were fisherman just like their ancestors. Jesus challenged them to toss their nets into a deeper place. When their nets were bursting with a catch, he told them not to be afraid. I so wish I could walk with this fearlessness among the deep waters of hypodermic needles, rain-soaked back packs and shopping carts filled with people’s only possessions. I must rely on Jesus who challenges me through our shallow bowl of water that deeper faith will someday wash up in me.

Jesus gathered his friends on dry, level ground and told them that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the grieving will all be blessed. He also warned those who were well-satisfied not to expect satisfaction in the Kingdom. I hold on to these Beatitudes. I believe that what Jesus said that day on dry land can be found in our baptismal waters. I splash filmy water on my forehead and shoulders ready to be led into places I least imagine under the sign of the Crucified.

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