I walked up to the lake with 170 other college students to watch the spectacle we Christians know as baptism. You know, that event where you dunk a bunch of people either into a freezing lake in the beginning of October or into the jacuzzi you had to order for your church building because you couldn’t find a lake.
I personally had to endure the bapcuzzi. Difficult, I know.
As I approached the sand, I had a random memory flood my mind. It was a memory I had not recalled since the same spectacle on the same annual retreat one year prior. It was a memory so small, so pointless and so insignificant that I truly had to wonder if it even was a memory.
You ever have one of those memories? The kind where you had to determine if it was something you experienced in a dream or if it was something incredibly convincing you had just made up on the spot? Well this memory similar to that.
It was a memory of a bee. A very obnoxious bee that kept getting in the way of me watching the baptism service. I hadn’t thought of this since the day it happened, but there it was, randomly back in my mind. I paused and stared at the beach as though I were in a movie and had just experienced a flash back.
I have similar movie moments like this when storms are approaching. My method is as follows:
- Come to a stop in my stride.
- Slowly turn my head towards the storm clouds.
- Slowly turn my head back to the ground.
- Look forward and say, “So it begins.”
I made my way to the corner of Sand Street and H2O Drive to watch my oh-so-brave peers make their way into the frozen depths of October, recalling my own bapcuzzi back in 6th grade. One by one, they submerged themselves into death and rose up into life; an event made clear by the Spirit.
Many had been baptized and there were about four left to go. It was at this point that he came to the chaplain’s arms.
It grew quiet quickly. If no one had understood the significance of this act beforehand, they got it now. And it wasn’t through some kind of vast theological explanation that the significance was understood, but through the cringing, whimpering face of one male college student.
This was it. This was the moment. It wasn’t just some kind of tradition, it was a real and tangible spiritual experience. He was about to die. He was about to take everything that had happened up to this point in his life and kill it, bursting forth into the life and resurrection of Jesus. This was it. This was the moment.
Down he went, face still distorted by the emotion of it all. He was tilted backwards until fully submerged for what was probably 1.6 seconds, but I like to imagine that time slowed for him when he went under. Like on that episode of Planet Earth, where a whale is caught jumping out of the water for about 2 seconds, but the super high definition camera slows it down to about a minute so you can really watch.
That must have been what it was like for him, because the face that emerged from this new burst of life was slightly different from the one that went under. See, during that 1.6 seconds he began to yell at the top of his lungs. I knew it because when he was pulled out of the water his mouth was wide open and the sound that came forth could be heard all across the campground.
Photos courtesy of Jacob Roman
That was it. That was the moment he had been waiting for and now he gets to live out of it for the rest of his life. He made his way back to the beach with the others, continuing to cry and receiving extended hugs from all around.
I stood next to the lifeguard stand, alone (though surrounded by dozens of people), and stared out at the waves, reminiscing of the new memory I had just made from this 39th annual Spiritual Life Retreat. It was at that moment that a large bumblebee flew past me and landed on the yellow board that lifeguards use to surf out to people and rescue them (or so I would imagine).
Immediately the random memory I had earlier returned to me. My life went back into movie mode as I slowly turned and stared at the insect. The noise of the crowd around me faded out as I watched it walk around the board. And then, without bothering me or even flying around my head due to the excessive gravitational pull of my noggin in comparison to the bee, it took off. It flew past me towards the area it had came from while I stood there confused.
To many of you, (whether atheist or Christian) this was just random chance or some kind of science. Fair enough, I’ve been in that position before. But to me there was something more going on here. I’m not entirely sure what, but nonetheless, there was something.
For the time being, I have come to the conclusion that the bee represented evil. It’s black and yellow stripes were a warning that satan had seen what had happened at that event and that he was still in the game. For me it was a call to prayer for those individuals who had just been baptized. That they would hold tight to Jesus through thick and thin; that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I’ve made since my own baptism; that they would be so close to God that what He does, they do and what He says, they say.
See, I am incredibly fortunate to not be born into some kind of civil or world war, but that doesn’t mean that I am exempt from warfare. I (like you) have been born into the world’s longest war. It’s war between God and satan; between angels and demons. It’s a war that dates back before our existence.
The good news is that Jesus has won the battle, but the bad news is that satan takes captives day by day. You can claim that what I’ve said here is pure wackiness if you’d like, but there is a real spiritual realm all around us where war is going on 24/7 and no enlightened, rationalistic mindset is going to change that.
And so we pray and liberate the captives. We can agree on that.