Reading Time: 4 mins

The Day Russell Brand Was Filled with The Holy Breath

Reading Time: 4 mins

God chose Russell Brand, chose to defy his fast-escaping life and drink up all his swift-running sin in the River Thames.

On the final Sabbath day in April of this year, English comedian and actor Russell Brand was baptized in the River Thames. Full immersion. Wild dove descending. An ancient word hurtled from heaven, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Breath cannot be corralled, sweet-talked, or defended against. He is rough and old and does not craft his message for our pleasure. No fiction gains purchase on our encounters with him. He is a mystery. Words crackle around him, and when he comes, it’s like the sun hitting frost. 

So Brand, like millions of others who linger long at the gate of the dead eating darkness, was pushed out into the light. The world was un-darkened for him. His body was, and is, given manna food that fattens the soul with numinous calories. Then the barren well he had long drawn from to slake his spiritual thirst was readied, filled with new waters, life-giving waters, heaven and earth in full communion. This was not to merely fill his cup, and so he was hoisted over the lip; he was thrown down into the watery deep. 

But when we forget the Holy Spirit pulled the earth out of the watery deep, when we forego the old stories of Noah and Naaman, the Red Sea crossing, and the Baptizer shouting, “Repent and be baptized!” we stop remembering. We stop gathering around the old tales and forget that it is God who chooses when and where he will create something new. He showers us with his mercy; that is how he has always done it. God chose Russell Brand, chose to defy his fast-escaping life and drink up all his swift-running sin in the River Thames. 

The hunt is over. The blood truth is in Brand’s nervous system. He has been scrubbed and spoken to so that all the prophecies come true. Jesus has called another sinner away from the gate of the dead. This is life stuff, Genesis stuff, the truth that overwhelms. But it is also never popular. 

How can we know for sure that Brand is sincere about his conversion? We can’t. The proof is not in our doing, but God’s enduring. Being a new convert is like being caught in a wild rumpus. I know what this feels like, myself. Every day, questions leap from your mind like salmon, writhing and wrestling against the current of your thinking. But, in time, God-willing, a great tranquility will sweep through him like it did me. He will find that the Paradise King constantly walks with him, and that he belongs to the other side of the waters now.

How can we know for sure that Brand is sincere about his conversion? We can’t.

We do not have to see anything about Russell Brand – or any convert – that Jesus does not see. His are the only eyes that fully focus on us. Everyone else sees us as a kind of nervy blur: changing, contorting, prone to mood swings, withering.

But that doesn’t stop others, especially those who have not been blown down by the Divine Wind, from stabbing at him with the spiteful spear. “He isn’t a true convert.” “It wasn’t a real baptism.” “What about all his other spiritual excursions? Isn’t this just another box he’s checking?” “He’s a celebrity; what if this is just a ploy to gain more attention?”And on and on and on.

The spiteful spear stabs at him, the stink-spear wreaking of pride and envy. 

For most of us, Brand is a pixelated soul. A face on a screen, a hyper-kinetic announcer of politics, culture, and spiritual questions with which we may agree or disagree. But now he is also clothed in a wonderful wetness. He is baptized, which the apostle says clear as crystal, saves us, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6).

We must absolutely not go further than what God says. Otherwise, our eyes grow smaller, piggy-red, distrustful, grumbling, “Did God really say?”

There are no handrails when God really gets into converting sinners. We can bang against each other in our fury or clink glasses at our good fortune, but the Holy Maker is going to create what no one ever sees: something from a nothing, someone from a no-one. 

And what does it look like when he is finished? It looks like the Holy Spirit is pulling a new “little Christ” out of the waters of meaninglessness, ambiguity, and chaos. It looks like a man asking his viewers to tell him which translation of the Bible they prefer to read each day. It looks like a Christian talking about his pastor, his church, his brethren, and his excitement at being a new convert.

The Holy Maker is going to create what no one ever sees: something from a nothing, someone from a no-one. 

Each word of God’s redemption story gets worked into the skin and the flesh, the bone and the soul of each convert. It is a tale of confused hearts, a song of old grief, and poetry about a kingdom renewed. Ancient words about the Father. Bloody words about the Son. Breathy words about the Spirit, holding stories in our mouths about what is true. They live in our jaw, on our tongue, and in our saliva, just as they do for Brand and each convert.

This is our hope and sustenance when we have to kick against the pricks, our shield when others stab at us with the spiteful, stinking spear. The story of his grace and mercy is what the Holy Spirit uses to carry us through birth, betrayals, raptures, and death. It is a mad kind of love story that others will never grasp unless they, too, are brought to heel by it. 

“Baptism now saves you,” the apostle Peter writes (1 Peter 3:21). 

This is our chanson de geste, our song of God’s great deed. This is the power that takes a sinner and braids him together with his Savior. It takes the worst and makes them come out of the water a little lower than angels, banging and clanging and all lion-rough mischief. 

So, welcome to the communion of saints, Russell Brand and all new converts. It warms our hearts to greet you. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!