I have been drawing at the royal drawing school this week and one of the settings we worked with was a lady sat within an old tin bath. Whilst drawing this lady, I was thinking of how ancient a ritual bathing is. We often bathe to become physically clean but many traditions use the symbolic nature of baptism to become emotionally or morally clean.
As this ancient purification pool in Israel shows. Baptism predates christianity. The Torah also commanded ritual purification for both men and women. The Hebrew word tevilah (translated “immersion”) is used in the benediction recited during the mikveh ritual. Certainly no one would dispute that mikveh is a Jewish ceremony. The ritual washings and cleansings commanded in Torah and the other writings formed the basis for the rabbinical mikveh laws. Our ancient sages who formulated these rules agreed and emphasized that the purpose of mikveh was spiritual rather than physical cleansing. They taught that as the mikveh cleanses the unclean, so does the Holy One cleanse Israel (My 8:9). The roots of baptism rest deeply and permanently in the soil of these Jewish scriptures and traditions. That is, both baptism and mikveh depict by an outward act the inward transaction of faith; and both declare that only the Holy One has the power to cleanse men’s hearts and lives.
In the same way as coming into contact with dirt leaves us physically clean there are things in life that we come into contact with that leave us feeling emotionally or spiritually dirty.
Even Jesus chose to undertake the symbolic act and calls us to go through the waters from our old life to a new life in the Kingdom of God.
The book of John reminds us that “On the next day, he saw Yeshua coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘ Behind me comes one who has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but for this reason I came immersing in water: that he would be revealed to Yisra’el.” John testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. I did not recognize him, but he who sent me to immerse in water, he said to me, ‘On whoever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who immerses in the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
It is worth thinking what symbolic acts we need to place in our lives that will lead us to feel clean and whole.