In the 16th century, in Central Europe, Anabaptist communities passed around an anonymous tract, The Mystery of Baptism, which invited peasants to consider other-than-human creatures as Christ’s evangelists. “In the gospel of all creatures nothing else is shown and preached but the crucified Christ alone,” the author explains. “But not Christ as the head alone, rather the whole Christ with all his members—this is the Christ that all creatures preach and teach.” According to this theological vision, God has commissioned animals and rivers and landscapes as guides into Christ’s revelations, Christocentric theophanies, a gospel for human and nonhuman creatures alike.
Baptism is our immersion into Christ’s death and resurrection, our creaturely union with the waters as we undergo the labor of another world being born within this one. In the baptismal waters we join nature’s ache for redemption, for restoration. “Creation waits with eager longing,” Paul writes in Romans, to “be set free from its bondage to decay.”
Perhaps the savor of that river water in my mouth was the taste of earth’s longing for heaven, for a healing of our legacies of harm, for creation to be transfigured with God’s glory, for all creatures to be “united and bound together through the bond of love,” as The Mystery of Baptism declares, our belonging “with Christ, one body with many members.”
Circa 1903, this baptism took place in Wake County, North Carolina!
Outdoor baptisms were common community events in the South at the time. pic.twitter.com/nwagttiDJv
— NC Museum of History (@NCmuseumhistory) March 25, 2020