As I was preparing to write these reflections, news broke in our diocese that one of the priests who is very dear to me, turned himself in to the State Patrol, admitting that he had sexually assaulted a young woman in his parish. His long battle with alcoholism had brought him to this lowest point of his life.
My heart is heavy as I pray for this young woman-victim of a life changing trauma, for our priest, for his brother priests who carry the shame of “guilt by association,” and for our wounded church community. My feelings jump around from anger and disgust to deep sorrow, to bewilderment. I am moved to prayer and reflection on the question of: “How does God—our Abba, who loves each hurting daughter and son—look at all of this?”
The psalms cast some light into this dark space, especially Psalm 51, as I pray in particular for my priest friend.
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
In your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sins
For I know my transgressions: yes, my sin is always before me.
Against you have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes.
Behold, you delight in truth in my innermost being;
There you teach me wisdom when I bare my shame and truth before you.
Turn away your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit.
I offer you a contrite heart; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not turn away.
So, what does this have to do with today’s liturgy, commemorating the Baptism of Jesus?
Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to receive the baptism of John, who was preaching repentance. Jesus stepped into the Jordan as an act of solidarity with all who sin, not to participate in our sinfulness, but to share with us the way out.
Psalm 139 tells us that wherever we are, whoever we are, no matter how we try to evade the love and mercy of God, God is there to meet us. In his baptism, Jesus asks us to let him enter the murky waters of our hearts, and to let him bring grace and healing to whatever is hidden and painful there. And then, to rise out of the waters to live life full of a peace that comes from the very core of our being.
“Come, Lord Jesus!”