Fresh from the rains of these past weeks into this new year, water reminds us of life itself and the promises of new life symbolized in baptism.
Yet water is full of paradox, of life and death, of beauty and terror and transformation.
“I am haunted by waters.” These are the last words of Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It. Waters haunt all of us.
The human imagination is consumed with images of water, and rightly so. Our bodies are made up of water. If we fail to drink or if we are prevented from drinking, we will expire. Drought means the possibility of death for both land and humans—too little rainfall and life as we know it is threatened.
Water is also dangerous, chaotic, and devastating. In the ancient world the primeval disorder takes shape in the form of a watery chaos or monsters from the deep. An abundance of rain can lead to the land’s fertility, but too much water will drown the crops. Hurricanes and tsunamis remind us that water can be an agent of death. The watery depths of the sea are a great unknown. We know that we cannot tame or master them and that, as generations come and go, the water remains.
Water will play a central role in the coming decades or centuries. Will the waters bring death or life? Humanity has a tremendous role in answering that question.
Let us recall our baptism, reaching back to hear the voice that speaks to us out of the waters—the voice that proclaims to a world of conflict that we are all “very good” and claims us all as “beloved.” The Spirit moves in and out of our busy lives, and there are times when I recognize the Spirit’s hovering presence beckoning all to a different order, to a new creation. As I reach for the water, whether in a font or on the ocean’s edge, I find myself trying to connect to the chaotic, life-giving and mysterious power that resides in its depths. One day I hope that I can say along with Langston Hughes: “I’ve known rivers: ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”