January 14, 2017
In a recent interview the Surgeon General explained the new three-pillar health policy. Besides physical and nutritional wellness, Dr. Vivek Murthy is now also advocating consideration of emotional wellness. His statement is certainly not emotional. Science is telling us very regularly about the link between emotional well-being and health outcomes. The Surgeon General doesn’t mince words: “Stress is an epidemic in our country.” And many stress management methods are not healthy either. Establishing emotional balance, Dr. Murthy suggests, can happen through simple practices like sleep, social connections or meditation.
Establishing this emotional well-being in a stress-filled environment not only at work, in our school environment, but also in our socio-political context requires, I think, more than sleep or meditation. To block certain stress generating situations or thoughts we need to commit ourselves to specific values and practices that safeguard an unstressed space in mind and heart.
Baptism is part of these value practices that helps us destress and create this safe zone. Once a year we remember the baptism of Jesus and maybe this is an opportune time to highlight how baptism has never merely been a ritual for babies. To show this value of baptism let’s drop for a moment this churchy word ‘baptism’ that, as so many church words, has become laden with history and popular interpretations. The biblical backdrop of water symbolism has always been to highlight how grace seeks to revive the dried-out, overheated, worn-out components of our lives. Through water, grace is hoping to restore identity after people feel caught in the stream of historical events, compromising situations, violent oppressions, and yes at times personal sins. The biblical focus on water has always been to destress, unlock, or cleanse in order to reclaim dignity and liberty.
Running to the river for baptism won’t counter the stress epidemic the Surgeon General is worried about. Or maybe it would. Because time at the water is very relaxing. And reserving some holistic time to tend to the parts of our souls and bodies that are worn out by stress, can be very healing. The H2O-focus of our Biblical heritage helps us reconnect with the vital force in us that is like water, a crucial component of vitality. Discovering this vital force is like an arrival at the well, at a safe-zone space that helps us destress, regenerate, cool down, warm up, restart. May this Sunday’s baptism remembrance help us connect with the vital force of God’s grace in us.