In a couple of days my youngest child, Adwen Lea, is getting baptized. She asked me to baptize her. She asked me to play the piano for a song she and Mimi Johnson are singing about baptism (which Adwen’s Aunt Janae wrote for the occasion). She asked me to give the talk on baptism. Whole lotta Marvin goin’ on.

I know how to baptize, I’m practicing hard on the piano, but what do you say in such a talk? I’d welcome your response, but this column won’t be published until next Wednesday and Adwen will have been a baptized member of the church for five days already.

I could talk about my own baptism, but it occurred early enough in the Restoration that John the Baptist hadn’t come yet and I think I may even have been sprinkledI don’t remember. (Which of the prophets was baptized in a rain barrel and then re-baptized when somebody pointed out that the baptizer hadn’t “gone down with him into the water”? I know it wasn’t Howard W. Hunter, although I have a picture of him standing in a rain barrel. I put it on the back of my thirteenth album. He appears too young to be baptized, but he radiates a baptismal joyhe’s singing his head off, and a little black dog is standing alongside, similarly singing. I chose that picture because on the front of the album is a picture of me on our front porch playing the banjo and my dog ((the late hound “Mona,” so named because Mona Healey up the street named her dog “Marvin”)) is in the picture, too. Mona is not playing the banjo in the picture, though, apparently not being so musical as President Hunter’s dog. Or a little more shy.)

I could tell Adwen and Mimi and young Brother Alexander (whose given name has escaped me right now because he hasn’t come to our little baptism song practicesperhaps he is less like President Hunter and more like Mona ((who, don’t get me wrong, had an abundance of virtues of her own, just not musical ones)) ) about how my dad was baptized in an irrigation ditch in Mexico, and then not confirmed until El Paso, because while he was drying off, the Mexicans threw a revolution and all the saints were kicked back north across the border. Even then, Mexico had not so liberal an attitude toward undocumented aliens as we in the United States have.

Or (let’s cut them a little slack, here) maybe they just didn’t want the saints to get hurt in the crossfire. Of which there portended to be lots. A big battle was on tap for just outside of town and both armies had been gathering for days. The Federales, under General Madero, had marched through town early, to pick the best side of the battlefield. My dad saw Madero, who was a little guy, come out of a saloon and his horse, which was a big horse, knelt down for the little general to mount up. That tickled my dad. Then came Pancho Villa with his army. They marched all day through town, filling up all four streets. My dad said each soldier had a pair of big ammunition belts crossing his chest.

(Most of this is not true. Remember, my dad was eight.)

Speaking of eight, my son Joshua, who at age five was not big on the idea of baptism by immersion, consistently affirmed that he was going to “skip eight.” That’s how Gaylord Norwood felt, too. Gaylord was in my Primary class when I was seven, and the rest of us gave him such a hard time about his immersophobia that I think he forewent the ordinance altogether. We will be held accountable for this, even though none of us were, at the time, technically speaking, accountable.

[Speaking of technically speaking, writing a column for Meridian Magazine is no piece of cake, in case you were wondering. To wit: The instant I typed “forewent” (well, it may have been a couple of instances) I was assailed by an almost irresistible temptation to change it to “eschewed.” Just as I was compelled a few moments ago (moments are longer than instances) to conduct a thorough research of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 (wherein I painfully relinquished six decades of believing my dad’s stories about his childhood), I am now compelled to consider which word is more consistent with ordinances and scripture and stuff, and, perhaps even more to the point, which word would Gaylord Norwood use to describe our sabotage of his salvation? I don’t recall him using, in those days, either word very often. In fact, all I recall of that class with any clarity is the teacher saying “Marvin! Wipe that silly grin off your face!” I didn’t even know I was grinning. In fact, it was my TV-watching face (kind of squinty, which causes the unintentional parody of a smile) and, as I learned that day, my Primary-listening face. And, I am suddenly chagrined to discover, my column-writing face.]

Or I could recite some lyrics for my talk. Can’t sing them, that base is covered. In 1973 I read the Bible. The whole thing. In maybe 1974 I wrote a song about a picture I saw while reading the forty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. In the friendly spirit of doing your homework for you, I will report that there is a story there about water flowing from underneath the temple. It expands into a river (no tributaries, it just expands). An angel leads the prophet out into the river a thousand cubits (for equivalent modern measurements you must do your own homework) and the waters are to his ankles. A thousand cubits more (big river) and the waters are to his knees. A couple thousand more and it can’t be crossed over, “waters to swim in.” (I skipped the three-thousand-cubit checkpoint, where the water comes to his loins, because this is a family magazine.) Here the angel says to Ezekiel “Hast thou seen this?” Seen it? He’s drowning in it! Agreeing in whatever fashion becomes a drowning prophet, Ezekiel is caught away to the shore, presumably very much relieved.

He then is shown how, as the river flows through the desert, trees spring along its banks, with fruit that will remain ripe and fresh until picked and with medicinal leaves that will never fade. Finally the river reaches the Dead Sea and “heals” it, because “every thing shall live, whither the river cometh,” and the Dead Sea, now sweet, is teeming with fish and surrounded by fishermen.

Pretty cool vision.

Much later I read a commentary on this chapter by a learned Latter-day Saint scholar in which he explained how all this unfolding of images would happen quite literally (and, Captain Literally, I mean “literally”). I felt disappointed (this was before Meridian Magazine, in which you will daily find scholarly articles that will never disappoint, and the skies are not cloudy all day). I was disappointed because the first time I read this vision as a very young man the river immediately reminded me of a person, rather a Person, whose coming has all the same effects as this river, except throughout the Universe.


  I wanted the vision to be only about the Person Who is the Water of Life.

The decidedly un-scholarly song I wrote about it is called “If Jesus Was A River.” (I know, “were.” I told you it was un-scholarly)

If Jesus was a river rollin’ easy, fresh, and free,

And if Jesus was a river rollin’ easy,

Would you take your shoes off? Would you come along with me?

Would you swim into the beauty of the stream?

Once I was a plain and dusty stranger on the shore.

Once I was a plain and dusty stranger.

Then I swam the river and I dove into the glory,

Dove into the glory of the stream.

            Look around and the water’s to your ankles.

            Look around and the water’s to your knees.

            Look around and the water’s to your shoulders.

            You can see the fishes dancin’,

            Dancin’ silver rings around you and me.

If Jesus was a river rollin’ easy, fresh, and free,

And if Jesus was a river rollin’ easy,

Would you kick your shoes off? Would you come along with me?

Would you swim into the beauty of the stream?

(1974 Homespun Music, BMI. Used by permission of the author, because, well, it’s me.)

It’s a dancy little guitar song that I’ve sung at some baptisms, to the delight of most children and bewilderment of many parents.

It’s all poetry, of coursethis Baptism. Poetry written by the Savior. A poem he acted out to fulfill all righteousness. Like the best poetry (baptism is the Best Poetry) it becomes real in the performing of it.

Emily Dickinson said that whenever she read a real poem, it was like she could feel the top of her head coming off. (It didn’t, really.) With this poem, you can feel all your sins coming off. (They do, really.) And that’s even better.

But there’s more. Lamoni’s father, the king of all the land, told Elder Ammon that if Ammon’s God was real, the king would “give up all his sins” to know him. When we’re baptized, we’re not just getting clean for the sake of cleanliness. We’re getting clean to start our friendship with the Savior, Who is clean of all sin and doubt and sorrow. And was baptized anyway, because He loves His poetry.

I think I’ll say something like that. Anything will be fine with Adwen, who is thrilled to have discovered recently that she won’t be held under the water for the whole prayer, which, of course, can be muffed and repeatedfor as many times as it takes to get it right. Ezekiel would relate.