Immersion As a Spiritual Practice

“Let me be courageous in a way that I haven’t been before, so that I can get to know people who are different than me.”

This is not a post about baptism, although I’m a fan of all kinds of baptisms including full immersion.

This post is inspired by an article I read yesterday.  I strongly suggest that you read it. (And thank you S.S.)

Johnathan Kelso is a self-described privileged white man who grew up in Florida.  He never thought much about victims of lynching in the history of this country because he didn’t have to.  But he was moved one day in church to immerse himself in the stories of people who were tortured and murdered in the Southern United States in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It has changed his life.

My children were in Spanish Immersion programs as elementary school students.  They learned math and science in Spanish half of the school day and literature and social studies in English the other half of the school day.  It was not easy.  I could not always help then in spite of a summer spent in Guatemala while I was in high school.  But it changed their brains in a good way.  And it exposed them to stories and relationships that cracked open their worlds.

If we immerse ourselves in self-centered things, our brains will change – but not in a good way.  One of the problems with the rampant individualism in our culture is that we come to believe that our life’s purpose is about protecting/prospering/serving ourselves and our own.

The message of Jesus is the opposite of this.

Jesus – who himself crossed cultural, racial, geographic, and social boundaries (please read the Gospels)  – expects us to do the same.  Johnathan Kelso knew nothing about the horrors of racial injustice but after noticing the realities of racial segregation in Church, he was drawn to meet with the descendants of lynching victims.  He read the horrible stories.  He looked hard at the photos – sometimes postcard photos printed as souvenirs of “festive lynchings.” The article about his journey says this:

Not until he traveled to places where lynchings of blacks happened and talked to the families of victims did he begin to understand. He needed to see and hear for himself the stories of others and take ownership.

“But not in a way to say like, ‘Let me own that, too,’” Kelso said. “It’s more like, ‘Let me be sensitive. Let me be courageous in a way that I haven’t been before, so that I can get to know people who are different than me.’

Can you begin to imagine if each of us immersed ourselves in the lives of people whose experiences are foreign to our own? Not to “own it” (they are not our stories to own) but to “become more sensitive” to the experiences of people whose lives we may never have had to notice before:

  • The families of lynching victims
  • Incarcerated people
  • Undocumented people
  • Refugees
  • People of other religious faiths
  • People dying of incurable diseases
  • People who are chronically homeless
  • Rural people
  • Urban people
  • People who are our political enemies

Johnathan Kelso chose – as a spiritual discipline – to immerse himself in stories about lynching.  What might we immerse ourselves in – as a spiritual discipline?

In a divided world, this is perhaps one of the most essential spiritual disciplines of our time.  We will never live in peace without making a shift from “otherizing” people to immersing ourselves in their stories.

And while I didn’t intend for this post to be about baptism, maybe it is.

Image source.  And again please read this article by Tim Turner from The Bitter Southerner.


3 responses to “Immersion As a Spiritual Practice

  1. God takes me into places and says, “look.” Last night it was the waiting room of an emergency room. Not where I wanted to be, but rather where God wanted me to be.


  2. This has become our go-to word for what we want out of our mission trip experiences, both the ones we take and the ones we host. Thank you.


  3. Jan, I keep returning/referring to this post when talking with groups about mission. Thank you! Thank you!


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