Jesus’s Baptism by Giotto

While we do not know for certain why, John the Baptist showed signs of being at great odds with the ruling elites of Jerusalem in the Jewish temple. John was himself in the wilderness, we are told, and showed every sign of living the life as an ascetic: he wore simple clothes and subsisted on honey and locusts. A man like this would be freed to some extent from having to work in order to survive. This would have afforded him more time for contemplative prayer and meditation. Ascetics like this often were mystics, people who sought to know the thoughts of God. There is evidence that John was just this, that he became aligned to the divine compass that rests in all of us. How so?

Baptism as it is practiced today was very different in John’s time. Today we sprinkle water on a child’s head and say their sin is forgiven, their path to heaven is promised. But baptism by John was a different affair. We know through the disciples of Jesus, which took up baptism as an important precursor to discovering the kingdom within that it was imperative that the person want to be washed clean with all their heart

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is the water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? (37) And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.

Acts 8:36-7

While in Acts the baptism was couched in believing Jesus as the son of God, baptism was developed as a critically important way to free people from the division that previous sin, that which separates our hearts from the heart of God, could serve as a mechanism of release for people. All you had to do was to buy into it (believe). John was doing this in order to remove sin. John was setting souls free.

One important step toward awakening is cleansing the self of those things which divide us from the light that shines upon us, in us. In every way, Jesus explained that all of this was found within. It begins like a smallest of all seeds, the mustard.

Ritual cleansing baths are an important part of Judaism. John, I note, took the idea of cleansing one step further and created a way to free people from the burden of their past. What is remarkable is that John broke with the temple practice of blood sacrifice as the way to remit sin.

By whose authority did John do this? In his day John would have pointed to God. As any prophet, mystic or seer can tell you, this God is found within us. By John’s own perceptiveness and his desire for a better more peaceful way, he invented baptism. His own authority stamped the method with effectiveness. Yes, just saying it could even make it happen. John and Jesus both understood the role that belief or faith had in the work they did. Anyone employing methods like these understands the role belief plays.

People think there is magic in baptism, but it is entirely empty in truth, it is instead entirely filled by ones faith in it. By the same rule, baptism can be a hollow act if you don’t approach it correctly. There is evidence in the scripture to show that the early ones knew how to do it so that achieved its desired impact. One’s own faith is what works the magic. Does God forgive the sin? No, instead we do. God is always ready to forgive, but it is we who must prepare ourselves, to make our minds and hearts right to be forgiven. At any moment this can happen because of the abundant love that God has for all. We must be able to empty ourselves of the coarse stones that hides how ever-present this love is, how all-encompassing it has always been.

This would easily be counted as heresy today, but that is just how far the faithful have wandered from the core of these rituals. We think there is magic in just doing them, but that just isn’t so. If drinking the wine doesn’t make you feel closer to Christ, it’s your fault. You really have to let your imagination take you for a powerful ride. You had to be ready to give everything up to receive the power of baptism.

It’s important to understand how baptism was performed. In the earliest days a person left all of their garments and went into the water naked. This is one reason why there were furors over women in the early church baptising people. It was considered scandalous for a woman to be performing this with people who were naked. Women did, however, perform baptism. Sadly, baptism has been altered from its original form where one strips away the covering, the guile of the self, to come to God utterly naked. This ceremonial stripping away of what protects and hides us was an important ingredient to the process.

Being naked served to do two two things: it helped a person to surrender to the ritual. It is hard to hide your soul and heart when you stand naked in the water. It also emphasizes how the body will be washed clean of sin. If you believe it will happen, then it will. That is the true magic of baptism, which relies on belief. But who really is letting go of the sin, the burden? You, of course. Most people think of baptism as the method that works it magic. Baptism was a mechanism to help bring a person to a state of surrender: the grip on what needs to be let go is softened, and if the heart is ready, it goes. The more you let go, the less you have standing between you and God. We have forgotten these principles today. In fact, every baptism is done fully clothed. Besides, what’s the big deal, really?

Something happens to a soul when it is unburdened by the weight of the inner division that divides us from the divine; we suddenly are relieved of that which had been weighing us down only moments before. This adds buoyancy to the heart, and brings one ever closer to the divine presence. It is a trapdoor into the soul and its connection to divine presence. Release the right block or stone holding up the dam and the whole eddifice can come tumbling down.

Humans are made up of a series of these blocks or “stones” that serve to keep out the light or the water of life. All awakenings proceed in the same manner: surrendering to the powerful force that undoes us, that, like a physician, removes those things that keep us from the divine light. You didn’t have to be a Jew, you could be from any faith, from any walk of life. The church created the impression that you had to become Christian if you were to enjoy the benefits of the true light.

It’s quite possible that John was in the wilderness because he was not accepted by the temple priests as legitimate. While his method of baptism was drawn from tradition, it also departed from it. There is no mention of John taking money for his services, which would have been different from what happened at the temple in Jerusalem. This may be why he was in the wilderness. It may also be that John saw the corruption there and chose not to participate, we don’t really know for sure. What we do know is that John developed this method on his own and was offering it to others, which stood as a method that bypassed the temple methods of tithing and sacrifice that were filling the coffers of the temple.

It is worth mentioning that during this time the temple priest began hoarding the Jewish coin used for tithing to the temple. This was called the half shekle (also shekel), as no coinage from a pagan Rome could be accepted. This created artificial scarcity and drove the value for coin up. People from the region would come for yearly blessings and religious observances, bringing a bushel of grain or chickens, doves, or other valued resources which would get converted to the shekle. Under the hoarding regime, what took a bushel of grain could end up costing two bushels, later. That’s some pretty bad corruption for you. And who of conscience would want to deal with a system like that? This was the world that John and Jesus found themselves in.

Jews weren’t the only tradition to practice a cleansing of self for reaching the divine, however. The Native American sweat lodge or inipi is an important precursor to receiving divine guidance. One had to cleanse ones self in order to be closer to the divine and to be able to receive its guidance. The Hindus describe a process of cleansing energy channels where they knew past emotion can be stored, a process that also achieved a closeness to the creator. Much of yoga is concerned with this process of cleansing.

Now you might look at this and say, “This has no similarities to baptism!” But you would be wrong. What is key here is psychology. All of these methods work as psychological triggers….if you buy into or believe them. Under the skin, they achieve the same thing.

Rumi once wrote that people argue about the light saying one is better than another when all is light and none better than the other. All of these cultures knew and practice a similar method because it works because of how all people universally divide themselves from their heritage of children of the creator.

When I awakened, I clearly had released a long-standing issue that had me at odds with myself and the universe. As soon as I let it go, I began having symptoms tied to awakening. It was as though a path had been cleared for me where my awareness was freed up to know the fundamental truth of my being as tied to the divine. I didn’t reach this because of a belief or any expectation of any return from having done this work. Likewise, the work of John worked just as much for Jew as Gentile in his day. Jesus’s work and message worked for all-comers. Jesus saw the benefit in John’s work and began to employ it because it worked when done correctly.

To me, this method reveals the compassion that John had for the spiritual suffering of people. He went out of his way to do this work. Imagine this man, holding you and pushing you gently into the water and pulling you back out, pronouncing how you had been washed free of your sin. To do this, you had to trust John, you had to bodily place yourself in his hands. You had to be ready to let go.

Something powerful happens when you are with someone who has achieved this same type of release, also, which has been a well-known principle in many traditions. A teacher is more effective when they embody the knowledge of how the method works? You better believe it. Each person whose heart is open and ready can feel it since it is a deep spiritual truth, and that truth actually has a life beyond just the teacher (as long as followers don’t fall away from the core principles of the method). It was so powerful a method that Jesus went to be baptised, and when he did, his own connection to the divine was in that moment realized.

We often want to think that Jesus was different, but what I see is a man who wanted his own inner sin to be washed away. No one bothers to look at this, though, within the church. It’s as if, as how the institution has portayed it, that baptism was somehow different for Jesus. The elephant in the room is that people were finding relief from what had them divided from the divine. It is entirely reasonable to think that Jesus sought out John as the physician of his heart and soul.

Division within the self serves to hide or obfuscate our deeper, truer, nature. A person not burdened by unresolved feelings of anger, frustration, fear, or guilt, is much more able to understand and glimpse their deeper fundamental nature as a spark of the divine. The same appeared to be true for Jesus, since in the moment as he emerged from the water, something powerful had happened. It may have been more effective for Jesus than others, and this may also be why he adopted baptism as one of the ritual practices that now make up the Christian faith.

While my awakening wasn’t initiated with a baptismal event, the event that took place was, I suspect, identical to how baptism worked in the old days, which was that I was given the opportunity to unburden myself of an inner tangle of emotion about a past even that I hadn’t been able to resolve. I had a slow burn of frustration, guilt, and anger that had been burning a hole in the pocket of my soul. This angst was as much directed at myself as it was the universe for having sent a challenge spiritually that I felt I had failed in the face of. What was so interesting was once this initial release and subsequent shift took place, the challenge completely resolved itself. It could be said that this challenge to my system set up the conditions where enough pressure was brought to bear to serve as the force that would break through the wall seperating me from the depths within. Once I was able to just let it all go, everything changed from that moment going forward. For me, this one stone removed from that wall I had built caused the wall itself to weaken, ultimately allowing the water of life to stream into my awareness and initiate the changes to get me to a better place. It resulted in years of removing barriers I had erected to the divine.

These stones, all of them, were knots of emotion that only served to drown out or hide the soft flow of life-giving water/light of spirit. This all began with one initiatory act, and I suspect that this was also what John, Jesus, and many others were doing some two thousand years ago. Baptism washes away the lower so that the higher may be better glimpsed. It’s not a guarantee of awakening, but one in a series of steps that can work to bring a person closer until they can see the Christ or saving grace that is in us all.

Paul, in his letters explains it as not something that came from without, but as the Christ that was within. He said that God showed him this in his road to Damascus moment when he was struck by a bright white light. Paul wasn’t a believer at all, and was actively persecuting Christians. He waa shown this Christ within himself. Only then did he become such a vocal proponent of the movement. It’s kind of beautiful when you think about it. A tent-maker going around persecuting followers being baptised in the spirit of the Holy Ghost. That’s what happened to Paul. It was so sudden a transformation that he was blind for three days. This could easily have been a condition we call hysterical blindness. If true, it was because Paul needed some time to catch up with the new reality he suddenly was facing. Blindness can manifest it times like these when you are still unable to comprehend the about-face that happened. This underscores just how sudden his awakening was. This is not unlike many awakenings today. It’s quick, really in a glimmering of an eye and there it is. Boom. Say goodbye to Kansas.

This kind of experience was often spoken of in terms of dying to the old self in order to realize a new life, which was the Christ. Paul wrote of dying daily as he came nearer to Christ, a process identical to awakening.

This was one reason why the esoteric strand or sect within Christianity which we call Gnostic today took Paul as their hero. It was this esoteric strand that was best positioned to understand and convey the very keys to this kingdom, which rested on inner seeking and then discovery of a spark which could be kindled into a great light and a realization of the divine hidden within us all. These descriptions were incredibly similar to those found in other cultures which describe the process of enlightenment.

The conspiracy to destroy the Gnostic sects, which contained so much understanding of these and other sacred rituals by the Orthodoxy (that came later) was a conspiracy of ignorance. Within several generations this more secretive group of sects were driven from the institutionalization process we call Christianity today.

What John, his disciples, Jesus, and his disciples knew was that one of the most important aspect to the work they were doing rested on belief in an important way.

Today, we refer to belief in scientific terms as the “placebo effect.” While we tend to denigrate the power of belief in our modern culture by renaming it with a “sciency” moniker (placebo) belief, regardless, remains an important power of mind. Sign up for, say, a drug trial, where you are a subject who might get a new type of antihistamine as part of a study, and you can glimpse what this power of mind can do. It is known that a certain percentage of participants who believe they are getting the drug and not the sugar pill (the placebo) but do get the sugar pill, will often exhibit physiological reactions as if they are actually getting the drug.

While the placebo effect has its limits in terms of how it can heal, it is a significant enough of a response to begin turning the tables for many touched by it. It helps to show how belief can drive the power of the mind for positive change.

John and Jesus knew about this and even explained many times (Jesus specifically) that it was a person’s faith or belief that had healed them. In first century Judea where access to medicine was nothing like what we have today, the effect of their belief made a huge difference in how people felt.

The Orthodox sect of Christianity claims that the books of the Nag Hammadi Library are heresy, but what interests me is how sophisticated the teachings are and just how probable it could be that they represent, in part, a private teaching by Jesus and his followers. Scholars seek to attribute some of the writings to a man named Valentinus who had a vision of the risen Christ and lived in the first century. Valentinus wrote about how he had visited a direct disciple of Paul who explained to him that Paul had both a public and private teaching. The disciple, named Theodus, taught Valentinus about this inner or secret teaching. While this itself does not prove that Jesus had an “inner ministry” there are indications in the synoptic gospels that Jesus did not teach openly to Gentiles, preferring to teach in parables in order to veil the meaning of his teachings, which happened in Mark and to a degree again in Luke. Every tradition on Earth that has had an esoteric wing which hides certain teachings in order to protect the uninitiated from what could prove to bring awakening before the student was ready for the experience.

Baptism was the beginning, one step in a series of passages to free the self of the burdens that exist in a person’s heart. This today would be called “release work” and it plays an important role in luving closer to the divine presence and allowing ourselves to be transformed by it.

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