Before I left for Israel, Duncan asked me, “Are you going to get re-baptized?" “Of course not!’ I retorted. I was baptized at seventeen in the Suncook River, a slow, silty river that curved through the mill town where I went to high school. My pastor was there, and others from my youth group. I was wearing a white robe, and I walked out into the water and sunk under the river, and it was done. I did not faint or swoon or see heaven open, but I was asking for just as much. I wanted my old life and my old heart washed away. I lived in a house without heat, without a future, without hope. I died in that house a long time ago, until I heard of this man Jesus. He saved my life. I would follow him, I decided, even into the river. Dripping with brown river water, I was starting life again—with him. I was no longer alone.
But that was forty years ago. Maybe I needed to do it again. Maybe I would see heaven open, or feel God’s Spirit overtake me. Maybe I could get it here—more of God, like these pilgrims. Maybe this is my chance!
I stand by the river’s edge, paralyzed with indecision. I don’t even see the two women beside me until they speak.
“Would you take our photo standing in the river?” The women, in red, look hopeful.
“Sure!” I smile, glad for the interruption. “Where are you from?”
“Wow, that’s wonderful!”
They hand me their camera, a pocket-sized digital. We find an empty piece of river beach.
“How about there?”
The women, middle-aged and maybe sisters, step into the brackish water. “Oeeeuuww, that’s cold!” they squeal, rolling up their jeans further.”
I’m angling with the camera, but can’t get the composition just right. “Can you take one more step out so I can get more of the river?”
“Ohhh no, it’s too cold!”
We all laugh, and I snap a few of them beaming, heads together, feet in the water.
“Where do you fellowship?” they ask me when I am done.
“In Kodiak, Alaska.”
“No, what kind of church?”
I think a minute, then decide to keep it simple. “I go to a Baptist church.”
“Oh, I am Methodist!” says one of the women.
“I am Presbyterian!”
“All part of the body of Christ!” I say, giving the first my arm as she steps out of the river.
“Oh yes indeed!” she answers back, the other adding, “Amen, sister!” behind her.
We grin at each other like conspirators before we turn away.
I walk through a group of Koreans, while a busload of Africans wearing batik collect at the river. Every tongue and tribe is here today it seems. I cannot stop trembling.