In Oklahoma in the 1930's the twin devils of "Dust" and "Depression" were dancing wildly across the land trampling anything in their path underfoot. History has shown us that in times of adversity and danger such as this, there will be an increase in spiritual fervor and intensity. This was certainly true in the Carriker household and among their church friends. And that zeal occasionally provided occasion for a respite from the wearisome tedium of daily life. Our church, like most, was always looking for more sheep to bring into the fold; mostly because they felt a call to spread their faith, but also because a new member meant a baptizing would have to be performed. Baptisms gave those struggling on a daily basis just to survive during those grinding days a respite: A welcome escape from the dreariness of daily dust and Depresson.
Although they could be done individually our church usually waited until at least three or four individuals or perhaps a husband, wife and their children were ready to step onto the bottom rung of "Jacob's Ladder" and then scheduled a baptism service for all. These baptisms were ordinarily sandwiched between the Sunday morning Sunday School/ Preaching service and the Sunday evening service. After the morning sermon and songs were ended members of the congregation would rush home and "skin out" of their Sunday Best clothing; which in the Carriker household was no more than changing from whatever articles of clothing showed the least amount of wear and tear into more functional, day-to-day garb.
Oklahoma, in the 1930.'s was arid. Its only outdoor bodies of water were a few slow-moving rivers and murky little ponds here and there which were used primarily as watering-holes and toilets for cattle. When a baptizing was called-for in our small country church the only body of water reasonably close was one of those ponds. Any cattle that hoped to use the pond were driven away and the water became our baptismal pool. Dirty? Polluted? Yes! But had anyone reflected on it, which I doubt, I think they would have allowed the The River Jordan, in which John, the Baptist brought so many sinners to righteousness was most likely no pristine mountain stream. If considered at all it is likely the unspoken thought was that since we were going about The Lord's business, The Lord would provide for our physical health and it seems He did.
Various denominations performed baptisms in different ways; some by sprinkling and some by pouring water over the head of the sinner-soon-to-be-Christian. Baptism in the church in which I was raised, a small denomination which stoutly maintained that they, not the Mormon Church, had the right to claim Joseph Smith as their founder, insisted that baptism must be by total immersion. (As an aside, the origin of the disputed claim as to what church Joseph Smith founded is a fascinating chapter in American History, encompassing the lives of several characters who were involved in deep mysticism, angelic visitations, persecutions, lynchings, and ultimately a mass exodus to a "Promised Land.")
So, on my baptismal day, when all who would attend were present at the baptismal pond, the brothers, sisters, mothers, dads, and friends of we who were about to be "taken under" were gathered on the bank, they sang hymns and were led in prayer by one of the congregations "ministers." While they were creating a spiritually appropiate atmosphere I removed my shoes (they were the only pair I had and had to be protected) and waded out into the pond until the water was up to my waist. There I was met by our pastor, an "Elder" in the church who could legitimately call down The Holy Ghost. While standing there next to him he raised one hand heavenward and placed the other on my back. While in that pose he offered a brief prayer then immediately clapped his upraised hand over my mouth and nose and tipped me backward until my entire body was underwater. While doing that he spoke the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," then rapidly brought me forth from the water. Having entered it as an unregenerate sinner, I emerged from it dripping wet and undoubtedly covered in bacteria, but with all my former transgressions swirling in the water to dissipate and be forgotten in the mind of God. I was then dismissed to wade back up onto the shore - presumably filled with holiness and freed of all sin. I don't recall what my emotional or spiritual disposition was that day. I suppose I saw it as a desirable ritual of passage of some sort, but if I had any surge of spirituality it has been lost in the mists of my mind.
Later, during the Sunday evening service the other newly-baptized and I were called up onto the rostrum and seated while two "Elders" of the church rested their hands on top of my head as they prayed over me - a ritual known as "Laying On Of Hands. Next, one of them poured olive oil sparingly on my scalp and called upon The Holy Ghost to number me among "The Saints." (Our church's full name was "The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" so it made sense for its believers to consider themselves "saints.")
I hope that for a few years, being a still relatively innocent boy, I merited that title. Years later I surrendered it by renouncing my membership in that church and becoming a member of another church; one that does not bestow that honorific onto the living. Nevertheless, I live in hope that I will someday be included among those who rightfully bear that title.
A brilliant perspective in biblical and American history. It is a privilege to learn about life during the dust bowl and Depression from someone who actually lived it, and who has the writing ability to share this personal history. (The irony of cleansing sins in a filthy pond....)
Thanks for this.
Thanks, Tom. As I reflected on my baptism that irony made me smile. Another irony I didn't work in was that ONE of the other commonly-used baptism bodies of water was known locally as "The Devils Bathtub." It was a so-named because it was formed when a small stream, over time, carved out a larger pool of water beneath a small waterfall. Surrounded as it was by rocks it suggested a bathtub. Why it was attributed to the devil is just human nature it seems. :-) My parents were baptized in "The Devil's Bathtub" several years before my baptism.
Tom, when I try to reply to your message I get a note saying that "text" is not allowed. To get this story published I had to re-type it online using the Legacy word processor/editor. Previously I could readily copy/paste from WORD to Legacy. Hopefully that will be possible again. (I had to reply this way. I'll delete this comment after hearing from you.)
It was a pleasure to see you back in print. You are a true story teller. This one made me chuckle more than once.
Thanks Dick. I come by it naturally. My Mother was an oral story teller par excellence. Unfortunately she wasn't a writer but "Boy," could she tell stories.