Baptizing the Present Moment: Reflecting on Jamaica

Moses and one of Jeff's students

Moses and one of Jeff’s students

I returned from an international service immersion experience to Jamaica with a renewed sense of purpose. I spent a week in Jamaica with a group of students, and it consisted of working with children who were abandoned because of mental or physical disabilities. A majority of these children were non-verbal and wheelchair bound, but I found myself connecting closely with a resident named Moses. We bonded fast because of his infectious smile and energy. We would dance together in his own way: He’d grab my hand in his and shake in his chair, moving his body back and forth with varying speed. I found myself being welcomed into a moment by him. He initiated the interaction and invited me to follow him into these special moments of his – moments where his outward disability didn’t define his interior ability to embrace each moment as one for living.

Our world offers us so many opportunities to distract ourselves in moments that either lag behind us in the past or paint us an illusion in the future. This can easily be blamed on the rise of social media, the 24-hour news cycle, or our dependence on technology. But amidst all that is a more fundamental reason we want to distract ourselves. Sometimes the present is a hard reality to face. We can never really know what each moment will bring, and our natural inclination is to control it, plan for it, expect it. We can always know what has happened before the present, and we can always project what will happen after a certain moment will take place. I wonder how many times we’ve allowed ourselves to ease into the present, with all of its uncertainty and wildness.

The experience in Jamaica demonstrated God’s grace in the present moment. The Baptism of Christ ended the Christmas season, and the image of John baptizing Jesus reflects this idea about God’s grace in the present. We see John pouring water over Jesus’ head while he stands in the River Jordan. John is wearing his camel skin shirt, living in the desert, and inviting those who would listen to prepare a way for the Lord. Jesus, humble, enters the waters of the river and asks for baptism amidst others who followed John. It’s as if Jesus is looking at the face of the wild present in John, and allowing that pregnant moment of new life to flow over him in the waters of baptism. God descends on this moment, acknowledging Jesus as the beloved one, the one who meets the world precisely in the present moment with humility and the offer of new life for all.

The questions that came out of this experience in Jamaica invite and challenge me to live in the present. How do I enter each moment? Where do I humbly submit myself to the beautiful chaos of each moment? Is Christ in these moments, submerged in the water of my own present reality? I pray for all of us, that we can see the present moment as an invitation to new life and God’s grace.

Categories: Essays

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6 replies

  1. A renewed focus! Sometimes I need to train myself to see Him in every moment and every situation. He is in my every surrounding; a bird’s tweet, friendly smile, a fresh breeze, the sunlight. Thank you for reminding me of His presence in my spirit and the joys He places around me to be present. 🙂

  2. A great reflection.. I need to remember the joy of the present moment. There is so much we miss by not focusing on God in all things in the everyday moments of our lives.

  3. I lived in Kingston at two separate times while growing up, each for one year. The first time was at age 7 in 1965. My dad worked in Kingston for an American company that had operations there. Jamaica had just gained its independence from England a few years before, but the British influences were still evident. I lived there again in 1970 at age 12. The country had changed in lot in those few short years. Kingston had become a much more dangerous place to live and work. In 1965, I could walk to and from the school on Hope Road. Not so by 1970. We didn’t go anywhere unless we were driven. The Cuban government tried to covertly take over their government in 1972, and dad had to leave for good when Cuban troops started showing up. He flew out on a Pan Am flight late at night with nothing but the clothes on his back and whatever he had in his pockets. Thankfully, the Cubans abandoned their plans and pulled their forces out.

    I was reading a Jamaican church website a few years ago. The pastor seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by all hardships he saw among the people of his congregation. It seemed that he ministering to his flock all by himself. Here in the states, we take it for granted that most churches of any size will have full time ministry staffs to whom pastors can delegate certain responsibilities. I think it would be good to reach out and see if there’s anything we can do to help take some of the load off the senior pastors in those churches where there’s one pastor who’s having to wear all the hats. In fact, I think I’ll bring this up to my pastor.

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