200 miles is a LONG way to walk.
I shook the thought from my head slowly rubbing my hands over my face as I reclined inside my tent.
Outside the confines of my shelter, Lyell Creek hissed along the creekbed as I settled down for my second night on the 211 mile John Muir Trail. I spent my first day hustling a burly 30 miles, followed by my first day with a 50 lb pack, and I now faced a big climb the following day over 11,000 foot Donahue Pass.
Though the following day threatened another challenging climb, my overarching goal seemed impossible.
Despite my various outdoor excursions over the last three years, I had never attempted ANYTHING this big. I felt defeated despite having hardly begun this trail. As the evening wore on, I fell into a fitful rest.
The following morning I awoke to a bluebird summer day. Feeling anxious about my pace and falling to the back of my hiking group, I broke camp quickly and headed up-trail hoping to put a buffer between me and my party. I took a deep breath and set a brisk pace.
Within thirty minutes, my body warmed up as I gained elevation. Just as I broke into a quick stride my progress came to a screeching halt when confronted with the swift flowing creek outlet of Ten-thousand Foot Lakes with no dry way to cross.
Furthermore, the way beyond changed from a rocky trail, to a snow-covered headwall that would undoubtedly burn my energy out.
I dropped my pack, fuming at these obstacles, feeling helpless and weak. I pulled at my laces when I heard my hiking party approach from behind. My temper ratcheted up a few notches as I now would be quickly left at the back of our party.
With my boots and socks removed, tied together, and draped over my neck; I took a deep breath and stepped into the creek tottering under my load.
The water was beyond frigid. Within seconds my temper had evaporated as I needed to focus on stepping with caution. My feet went numb, but the focus required and cold water left me feeling exhilarated.
I stepped out of the creek on the far side grinning wildly.
I dropped my pack, and carefully dried my feet and donned my shoes. I looked up at my surroundings, it was as if the world was made anew. No longer was I looking at these lakes and snow fields as an enemy or a chore, rather they were an adventure in waiting.
There was something in slowing down, and putting my feet in the water that I found both refreshing, and freeing.
I had given up my desire to skip through these mountains untouched and disassociated. In the water I had realized that I was connected with the environment, I was a part of something bigger. Now on the far side of this impromptu baptism I didn’t just walk through the trails, I was a piece of the Sierra; I drank the creeks, bathed in the lakes, inhaled the crystal air, and slept beneath her stars. I wasn’t transcendent from the Sierra, but very much participant in this place.
That crossing marked the true beginning of my adventure on JMT. Before that moment I sought to conquer the trail, after that moment I realized that 200 miles was far, but it wasn’t impossible.
The reader may wonder what this story has to do with baptism. Reflecting on this particular experience left me with a slightly different view of baptism.
The Bible is very clear that baptism is an essential part of our walk with Jesus. If you’ve spent some time with our community you will be familiar with baptism as a public declaration of your new life in Christ, and you may remember the apostle Paul’s words in Romans describing baptism as a reflection of our death to sin and our new life given by virtue of Jesus’ sacrifice.
There is, however another aspect of baptism and new life that we might overlook. Often we forget that we haven’t just died from our old selves, but also we have been baptized into our new community of faith (the “capital ‘C’ Church” in the parlance of Pastor Marty) (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:5).
We aren’t just baptized alone, but we become a part of something bigger. Just as I had been wrapped up in my own world and tiny concerns, there was something about slowing down during the creek crossing that functioned as a rite of passage.
Just as I began to feel myself as a part of the Sierra, when we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we actually become a part of the Body of Christ. Baptism isn't important just for you, it's important to all of us that each part takes its place in the body (Rom 12:4-5).
In a big way, I also began to see my walk with God as the beginning of another adventure too.
If you want to learn more or even if you’ve never considered baptism, make sure to check out our church website for more info.
Also make sure to join us for Just Add Water, our church family’s celebration in joining a few new people in making the decision to take the next step in their walk with Jesus. The next Just Add Water will be coming up Sunday August 30th at 6:00 PM.
I look forward to seeing you there.
- Joseph Gregory