Last Friday (July 3rd), our family had the joy of baptizing our daughter’s and son-in-law’s fourth child, Markandeya Jackson Lehnerd Reilly. I had the privilege of performing the baptism – as I have for each of Maggie and Kerry’s children: Eva (6 years old), Oscar (4), and Orlando (3). I performed the baptism (with its readings, songs, litany, profession of faith, and rich symbols of water, oil, fire, and new clothes) just off the dock in front of our house in Canadian Lakes, Michigan.
Twenty-five people (all relatives from Peggy’s side of the family) were present. The event was part of a mini-family reunion for Peggy’s siblings and their families. We were all together for about a week celebrating the Fourth of July.
It was great fun.
Here is a brief reflection I gave after reading about Jesus’ own baptism at the hands of his cousin, John, as described in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark:
Today we celebrate the baptism of Markandeya Lehnerd-Reilly. He has that name because he comes to us from India, where he spent his earliest moments of in utero life.
I first came across the name, Markandeya in the writings of my meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran a native of the Kerala State in India – which many of us here visited not long ago.
Easwaran says that each morning, his grandmother – his spiritual teacher – would go to the temple for Morning Prayer and return with a flower. She’d put it behind her grandson’s ear and pray, “May you be like Markandeya.”
Markendeya is the legendary mystic from ancient India who achieved enlightenment at the age of 16.
Mystics, of course, are spiritual masters. They have realized that: (1) we all have within us a spark of the divine, (2) that spark can be realized (i.e. we can live from that place of divinity); (3) it’s the purpose of life to do so, and (4) once we’ve realized the divine within ourselves, we’ll see it in every other human being and in all of creation.
In any case, Markandeya was one of those mystics. His story goes like this: His parents longed for a child and prayed to God (under the name Shiva) for a son.
Their prayer was granted.
But they had a choice, they could either have a son who would be a great devotee of Shiva and live a short life, or have a less-devoted son who would live a long life. Markandeya’s parents chose the former. As a result, they were told their son would achieve enlightenment, but would die on his 16th birthday.
Markandeya, of course, became a great devotee of Shiva whose name he lisped from his very first days in his cradle. Early on he became enlightened – capable of reaching uncommon depths of meditative unity with the divine.
But then his 16th birthday came. His parents tearfully told him of the conditions of his birth. Yama, the king of death would soon come for him. On hearing this, Markandeya sat down and entered into deep meditation.
Soon Yama came seeking his victim. But when he entered the room, Shiva rose up from within Markandeya. With one hand on the youth’s head and the other pointing his trident at Yama, he commanded, “Don’ you know that I am Mrityunjaya, the conqueror of death? You have no power over me or over those devoted to me. Markandeya will never die! Be gone!”
Trembling like a leaf, Yama returned to the underworld.
Today we baptize Markandeya Lehnerd-Reilly. With baptism he enters the community of those who would follow another great mystic, Jesus the Christ. According to our faith, Jesus is our Mrityunjaya, the Great Conqueror of death. Death, we believe, has no dominion over Jesus or over us, his followers.
Jesus’ teaching included the mystical truths that, like him, we are all daughters and sons of God and that the Kingdom of God is within us. His disciple, Paul of Tarsus taught that we are all temples of the Holy Spirit – that Jesus’ Spirit lives within each of us. It is our purpose in life to be channels of the Holy Spirit and bring about the kingdom of God in this world.
Today we’re here to embrace that vocation on Markandeya’s behalf and to re-embrace it for ourselves.
So our prayer for this child today is that he might be like Jesus with whom he is identified in this baptismal ceremony.
May he be like Markandeya.
May we all be like Jesus and Markandeya.