This weekend's services at church were baptisms. I grew up in the Baptist church, so adult baptism understood as "a public statement and an outward symbol of an inward change" has always been a part of my life and faith- and I LOVE celebrating these Christian lives. So much joy.
While there were numerous baptisms every service in the main service, in the smaller service I go to, Sojourn, there was just one- which means we got to hear more of the one lady's story than the quick summary that is shared when there are many people being baptized. The lady read her own story, sometimes through tears, and her statement and writing was almost poetic.
She was once a foreign language teacher, and she described an elliptical method of teaching foreign languages called "top-down, bottom-up". I recognized it as I listened as the way I learned Hebrew while in high school. The students are given a piece of writing- a sentence, a paragraph, a poem- and told to dissect it. In my experience, we would translate the paragraph to the best of our ability, and we were given the new vocabulary words it might contain. The real point of the lesson, though, was the grammar- the piece we were given would always contain a new tense, or a new sentence structure. This top-down method would let us pull apart the paragraph, discover it and struggle with it ourselves, until we could, in the end, at the "bottom", get a full picture of what the paragraph or the sentence or the poem was trying to say- and learn our new lesson for the day. The lady saw this as the first part of her faith journey- trying to understand what God has for her, deconstructing, learning new concepts, and challenging and pulling apart what she's always known until she had a full understanding of the Gospel. Not easy, but in the end, she came to the "bottom" herself, with God's help.
The "Bottom-up" aspect comes in next- using the new grammar concept and new vocabulary to build our own, original sentence or paragraph or story. In my class, I remember there being a standing extra-credit assignment- if at any point you brought in a composition of X words in Hebrew, you'd get extra credit. I remember, towards the end of my first semester, sitting on a long bus ride to New York City on the way to a mission trip, composing the best composition I could- and I was scared. Not that I was using the vocabulary or the grammar wrong- I was doing my best and consulting my textbook non-stop to make the composition perfect, so I wasn't as worried about that- but I was writing a Hebrew paragraph about my trip to go tell the kids in New York about Jesus, and bring them hope, 3 months after the September 11th tragedy across the street from their school deeply scarred them. Why was I scared while writing this? I was the only Christian in a class full of Jewish kids taking the Hebrew class as an easy A. The teacher, too, was Jewish and from Israel, so I wasn't sure how she'd receive a story using her native language about bring hope to people by telling them about Jesus. This was my "bottom-up" experience- using everything I knew about the language to express myself and tell my story.
The lady says she is just discovering what beautiful story God has in store for her. She is excited to apply all she's learned and write her own story, along with God. Her "bottom-up" faith experience, and mine, will last the rest of our lives, as we continue to craft a story and a journey intertwined with our foundational learnings, rough and unpredictable but certainly beautiful.
And the story I turned in to my Hebrew teacher? While I thought she would be very uncomfortable with it, she ended up being very excited about it. I think she was excited that she was able to teach a silly Gentile enough about these strange letters and words and grammar such that I could craft something that expressed who I was- and that I was interested in the subject enough to try. She said she showed my composition to the Hebrew teacher at the synagogue and he was interested too. She made me read it out loud in front of the entire class- which made me very nervous, but I figured they weren't that much more advanced than me, so hearing it somewhat quickly out loud, they probably couldn't understand what they were hearing. But I knew my teacher could.
As the lady being baptized described her top-down, bottom-up faith journey, I understood, and am still along the journey with her.
This is part of Ashley's Sunday Ponderings series. Join in, and reflect on what you learned at church this week!