Yesterday morning, I read this passage in Roger Hathaway's The Mystic Passion.
When Jesus went through the drowning of his human self, before John the Baptist, He knew the significance of yielding to the flood of drowning water, and that is why God spoke and said He was well pleased. Most of the people that John was baptizing were having their sins washed away, experiencing a cleansing, but Jesus was yielding the human nature to a death.
I found this striking because, though I have often heard baptism described as a symbolic death and resurrection, the figurative language tends to focus on burial ("buried in the waters of baptism"); I had never heard anyone call it a drowning before.
On the evening of the same day, I received an email with a link to a YouTube video of a conversation between John Butler and Rupert Sheldrake, and I watched most of it. Beginning at the 14:29 mark, Sheldrake proposes that John the Baptist was literally drowning people.
And I personally like John the Baptist because I think John the Baptist was really involved in powerful rites of passage. Basically, I think he was a drowner, and I think he held people under in the Jordan just long enough to induce a near-death experience by drowning.
And as you know, people who've had near-death experiences often say their lives totally changed. They've gone out of their body. They've gone into a totally different realm full of joy and light and meet dead people who are now gloriously resplendent with light, and they love being there, but they have to come back because it's only a near-death experience. And many of them have their lives changed by this. They've died, and they've been born again.
Now that's exactly what John the Baptist was doing to people. We know he was holding them underwater, not sprinkling them with water. He was actually holding him underwater by total immersion. They were transformed by this process, and it's usually considered to be just symbolic. But my view is, Why would you do something that's just symbolic when just for another minute or two underwater you could have the real thing, a near-death experience?
And I think our Lord had that at the baptism, which is when the first moment of the revelation to him of his divine affinity was, according to the account in the New Testament. So I think John the Baptist was an initiator who was leading people through a life-transforming rite of passage.
I'm not sure what I think about Sheldrake's theory, but it was quite a coincidence to run into such similar descriptions of Jesus' baptism in a single day like that.