I recently visited a congregation that had a new baptistery; a gleaming tank of temperature-controlled chlorinated water which could be changed as needed. Well, I thought, they no longer have to wait until summer to be baptized, which is bound to be a good thing. Before long, I was nostalgically thinking about some baptisms that I witnessed in my long-gone childhood...
We were not a church-going family on a regular basis, but we did go occasionally for strictly social purposes. I had no concept of salvation; church to me was a totally fun event that was temporarily interrupted by a sermon. Most of this church-going took place in the summer, when annual revival meetings where held. This summer-time holiness tradition began before the days of cars and pickup trucks, when people walked or rode wagons to church. It had to be after the crops were laid by. In the little church we randomly attended, you didn't mess with tradition, so the revival meeting occurred on the hottest week of the year. Some years, a large tent would be erected in a pasture nearby for those who wouldn't be caught dead near a church house. A visiting evangelist would proclaim the good news while tired farmers stood just outside the light created by a bare bulb on an extension cord, smoking and listening. Sometimes, they listened well. A community-wide baptism service was held the Sunday afternoon following the revival services for the new converts. We lived in the Appalachian foothills near the Tennessee River. It seemed that between every ridge there was a hollow with a creek making its way to the ocean via the river. Horse Creek, Second Creek, Whites Creek, and branches off them provided good swimming holes, which could be easily turned into a baptistery by simply removing the beer cans and spraying for insects. I was baptized in Whites Creek in a dry year when the preacher struggled to immerse a healthy 5'9" woman in water that barely covered her knees. The rain-blessed years were different; then people could find a shoulder deep spot where the dunking was easy.
We had some relatives who attended one of those churches where people jumped and ran, shouting the whole time, and it was rumored they handled snakes, although I never witnessed this personally. We never went there because my mom thought it was a little too traumatic for small children. The cousin and her husband were on the list to be baptized one Sunday afternoon, so it behooved us to go, inasmuch that kin was respected regardless of their choices. The service was held in a spring-fed bend of Horse Creek, which was a lot bigger and a lot deeper than Whites Creek.
The minute it started, my ten-year old brain surmised that something different was taking place here. There was lots of music, including guitars and French harps, unlike the one out-of-tune piano at the other place. There was several candidates for baptism lined up on the bank, waiting. The men removed their wallets from their pants and rolled the legs up to their knees. The women pinned the front and back of their skirts between their legs, an effort to prevent them from flashing the crowd while they were in the water. When the singing stopped, they dutifully filed in and waited their turn. Did I mention it was a hot, HOT summer day? The kind of day where the humidity sucks sweat and energy out your pores as a special treat for the mosquitoes. The crowd pressing on the usually quiet creek bank was steaming, some babies crying, mothers slapping at bugs and keeping an eye out for water moccasins. The service seemed to go on and on, and my skinny legs were tired of standing still. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly stand there one more minute, the action picked up considerably.
When our cousin was prayed over, immersed, and brought up out of that cold water, well, she just went crazy. She began frantically splashing the water, going under and up again, falling back in the water like she was doing a back flip off a diving board. When her head was above the water, she would give a good shout before going back under. The crowd just went wild. Someone, possibly her mother, yelled, "Get her, she is going to drown!" Others said she was "in the spirit" and began praising the Lord for it, extra loud to make sure He could hear it through the mayhem. My dad leaned over to my mom and whispered, "Somebody better get her out of there!" About the same time, someone standing behind us proclaimed that she could not drown if she was in the spirit. They were certain. My lil' ole sister looked up at me with her big brown eyes like she expected ME to do something!
After a few more minutes of hysterical wetness, she gathered some dignity and walked out, her long skirt billowing in the water like a jellyfish. The red-faced preacher reached for the next person waiting in line. I thought it was just fascinating. Up until then, I was ignorant of the fact that you could legally have fun while you were in a church service. It looked to me like she just saw a hot-day opportunity too good to pass up and took full advantage of it. If it happened today, I might just jump in there with her. Unfortunately, I didn't have my trusty digital camera fifty years ago. The photos are from Foxfire 7, a whole book in the Foxfire series dedicated to religious heritage traditions. I highly recommend it.
The grays are Sandhill cranes. Some folks at the refuge estimate 22,000 live there. The white ones are whooping cranes. There are from six to twenty there, depending on who you ask. We saw four while we were there yesterday.
The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is just off Interstate 65 outside of Decatur, Alabama.
The blog below was written in December, 2011. We are still doing lunch every month. Yesterday, we started our tenth year.
It has been said that when somebody gets married, they are marrying a whole new family. I don't know how accurate that is, but in my case, I got a new brother and two new sisters. The brother was still a teenager, and the sisters, both skinny with long, dark hair, became my new best friends. We are still hanging out together, these forty-two years later. The oldest rambled some, living in the frozen north and the very Hotlanta for a while. The youngest stayed here, briefly living in Muscle Shoals (which is just across the river), but has never left Alabama. For years, we lived within a ten-mile radius, but somehow managed to never see each other. We talked on the phone regularly, but we might go months without actually being in the same room. December, 2008. The three of us managed to get together for lunch at Legends Steakhouse. On that cold Wednesday, we made a goal to meet for lunch every month the next year. It was a goal we set together, but none of us really believed it would ever happen. After all, we are busy people. There are jobs and obligations and family and doctors and promises we all have to keep. But we promised to try. December, 2009. We met for lunch again, celebrating because we had made it a whole year. Dare we try for another year? We decided to go for it. We tried to set the date for every first Wednesday, but the date had to be moved around more often than not. Sometimes, we had to cut it short so somebody could get back to work. December, 2010. We celebrated two years, and no one had missed a single time! We have never done anything two whole years in our lives! We are pumped up now, thinking we can do anything. We are so proud of ourselves. Bring it on, third year! December, 2011. Here we are again. This had been a hard year, and one month, we did it on the very last day because we had put it off all month and people do get sick. But we made it! So here we go, starting our fourth year. At this point, no one dares to cancel; no one wants to be the one to break our streak!!! During these three years and counting, we have been able to check out most of the restaurants in our area, sometimes going to one as soon as it opened. Some we had gone to more than once, sometimes for convenience or we knew we could find a parking place there. Some have been dumps that we will never go to again, but getting that knowledge was always fun. Dictionary.com explains a habit like this: 1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street. 2. customary practice or use: Daily bathing is an American habit. 3. a particular practice, custom, or usage: the habit of shaking hands. 4. a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality: She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things. 5. addiction, especially to narcotics. Our monthly lunch meetings have become a habit; one that we love and never want to stop. It is also a commitment, and none of us wants to disappoint the others by not showing up. We have agreed that if one of us moves to heaven (any other move doesn't count) during the year, the other two have to continue. As we approach a brand new year, a calendar with lots of blank spaces, consider starting some new habits that will make life better for you and others. It's your choice. Yes, it is easier to do nothing, but it is not better. This is a good day to get that calendar out and start planning! Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4: 13-14
Is there anyone who hasn't stood in the night, looking up to the expanse above, and wondered? How I wonder what you are.... The Christmas season reminds us of the star of Bethlehem. The bright, incomparable star that was a map for Magi. The star that led the way for traveling wise men in search of a king. Wise men who had studied the heavens, astronomers, who had seen changes and knew something extraordinary was happening. Intelligent men who plotted the paths of stars when my Anglo ancestors were still nomadic because they had not learned how to store food. Men looking for answers. There has been rampant speculation for hundreds of years about the source of the star. Some believe an alignment of planets. Others think it was a comet or supernova. Why is it so hard for some to believe that the star was created specifically for the glorious birth of the Savior?
Could the King of glory become human and live among us without 'stirring up' all creation?
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." Gen 1:14-15.
Psalm 19: 1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; Night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, Their words to the ends of the world.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east come to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2. Heaven wasn't surprised when the star appeared. It was no accident of nature, no regular cycle of the universe. The star was for the Child! *NASA photos
We were in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg for a few days last week to enjoy all the Christmas festivities there. On Thursday night, the Weather Channel said there was zero percent chance of precipitation. The local news said maybe a dusting of snow. When we got up on Friday morning, it had started to snow, and it snowed all day. The temperature stayed around 32-34 degrees, so there was none on the roads. It was a rare treat for us to be in and out of the snow, which was sometimes blowing like a blizzard. All these photos were taken early Saturday morning.
The photos above were taken from our balcony at Mountain Loft resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The ones below were taken on the road going from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. You can see in some of the ones below that the sun was breaking through the clouds.
We have been blessed to enjoy Christmas in the Smokies many times, but this was the first time we have seen snow like this. Thank you, Father, for this early Christmas gift.