L ake. Lake Michigan steals my heart before any other body of water. Saline free, she encourages me in my youngest years to open my eyes under the surface. While body surfing, I trust her soft sands to cushion me when she brings me to shore. Her fish teach me not to shrink from scales or even nibbles.
Every year throughout my childhood, Mom and Dad pack our bags when March nears its end. We trade Michigan’s coast for the Caribbean Sea, so my family can spend a week in Jamaica at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf. It’s my time in Jamaica that doesn’t merely expand but explodes the scope of my infatuation with the natural world.
Ocean. The more time my childhood self spends with pudgy fists in the soils of Montego Bay, Jamaica, the more she learns about the phenomena of creation.
The Caribbean sunset becomes my first instructor. My father explains that we can use the sun as a clock in Jamaica because of our proximity to the equator. Year round, the time the sun sets varies only by an hour. For years to come, those sunsets and that island come to symbolize consistency.
Rain. The temperature also stays consistent, but I still note a seasonal shift the year I visit in May. It downpours on my eighteenth birthday, and for the first time in my life, I dance in the rain. Despite a rockiness in my faith that year, I still count the showers as a birthday gift from Jesus.
River. On our final day in Jamaica, we always rest. This means a trip to the waterfalls. Sourced from mountain rain rather than the briny ocean, the water rinses something deeper than my skin. I think of the words of Peter, “this water symbolizes baptism … not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21, NIV). I let nature’s hands wash my skin and hair. Together the rocks and the current shout the name of our shared Creator. They speak their own language, and though I don’t recognize the words, I know exactly what’s happening as the river spills over me. This right here, I think, is baptism.
This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine.
Shanley Smith volunteered in Romania last summer with Cultivate, a program for 18- to 25-year-olds to partner with Reformed Church in America (RCA) missionaries around the world. As a child, she served each year at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, an RCA mission partner in Jamaica. She attends Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan.