Taking the Plunge

The experience was exhilarating, and yes, I know I’m nuts. It felt like an opportunity to taste the “wild side” of our big, amazing Creator. 

Welcome to article 18 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Br. Josh, MIC, a second-year seminarian at the Marian House of Studies in Steubenville, Ohio. It is the continuation of Br. Josh's previous column, "Novice Notes." Watch for a new column every Friday.

By Br. Josh, MIC 

One year ago, around Christmas, two novices snuck out of the Marian house at Stockbridge at 5:40 a.m. It was me and now-brother David B. I am not recommending that any reader follow our nutty example; I’m just sharing my experience and its fruit. 

Brother David Guza, a longtime member of the Marian community, noticed us. I was dragging a suitcase and my companion was wearing a backpack. 

“Hey, where are you going?” he asked.

“We’re off to the lake to have some crazy fun!” I answered.

“With your suitcase and all your stuff!?” Br. David exclaimed. “Wow!” 

My suitcase was full of extra layers of clothing, towels, a blanket and a sheet. Novice David and I had two piping hot pitchers of tea. 

David B. and I went out the door.

“He’s got to be thinking, ‘those two crazies,’” David said, chuckling.

And he’d be right. It was January 6th and David and I were going to have fun in the cold!

Valuable penance
We drove to the lake. The outdoor temperature was 37 degrees and the ice on the lake was unfortunately quite thick. David had hoped for thinner ice so that we could quickly get into deeper water for our Polar Bear Plunge. 

Polar Bear Plunge can be a valuable penance if the prudent safety measures are followed. Be warmly clad to conserve body heat as long as possible before going into the water. Disrobe right before entering. Don’t get your head underwater, and get in and out quickly without lingering.

Immediately after taking the plunge, remove the swimming suit, dry off thoroughly, and change into warm, dry clothes. Foot protection is recommended to protect the toes. Hot tea afterward warms up the body’s core temperature. People with heart disease should not do this. 

Thousands of people in Canada and the U.S. perform the Polar Bear Plunge safely every winter. 

However, David was disappointed when we considered the ice’s thickness. 

“I think we can break up the ice near the shore and still take a bath,” I suggested.

“You won’t be able to do anything except roll around in mud and ice,” David said. “You need a good four feet of water depth to get in thoroughly.”

On fire with enthusiasm
However, I remained on fire with enthusiasm. I grabbed the ice scraper from the back seat of our car, walked quickly to the shoreline, and smashed away the ice near the bank, breaking it to bits. 

David returned to the driver’s seat of the car. 

Taking off my warm clothes, I headed to the water’s edge in my swimming suit.

Then, I lay down on my back in the water.

Ice fragments floated around me. 

The water surface slid over my stomach while I was lying on my back, so it had to have been ten inches to a foot deep. I rolled and splashed about a bit, making sure my whole body was wet except my head. 

David was mistaken about the mud. The mud or sand in the lake was frozen solid to the ground, and not a speck of it stuck to me. It was literally like taking a dip in a frozen (and clean) bathtub full of ice water. 

I was probably in there for five seconds, maybe a bit more. Soon, I felt winter’s bite.

I got out quickly and hurried back to the car. 

I was shivering and my toes were numb, as when I’ve been at the beach playing for 15 minutes in cold ocean water. 

Later, I told a friend, “It’s the coldest water I’ve ever been in, but not the coldest I’ve ever felt.” 

Most readers who have taken a long, very cold shower sometime in their life, or who have been in very cold ocean water for a substantial period of time, will have felt colder than I felt after my little ice bath. 

Whiter than snow
I protected my core temperature well by taking recommended safety precautions. It only took a few minutes to warm myself up again. The experience was exhilarating, and yes, I know I’m nuts. It felt like an opportunity to taste the “wild side” of our big, amazing Creator. 

When praying later that morning, I felt exultantly joyful. “Wash me,” I prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours, “and I shall be whiter than snow.” 

The Mass’s Epiphany Gospel reading said the Spirit descended on Jesus as he rose from the waters. 

David and I felt our joy building as we climbed Monument Mountain later that afternoon. We praised Our Lady of Guadalupe from the highest peak. 

Together, we sang, “On a mountain we find roses in winter! All the world has been touched by your love!”

We were all alone, so we shouted to Jesus over the misty forests below, “Have Mercy on us and on the whole world!” 

It was a day of joy.

Next: "Launching Into the Semester."
Previous entry.


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