Streams, Storms and Still Water

Good morning! Today, as Amara said, we’re continuing to look at our relationship with the second of the four elements: Water. Before we knew about the hundred or so elements that form the world, philosophers believed that all of creation consisted of combinations of four elements—Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. A healthy person has all of the elements in balance, and so does a healthy world. An imbalance produces physical illness and problems with our minds and feelings.

Even today, many people see these elements as representing parts of an integrated human being. Fire is intuition and energy, Air is associated with our minds, and Earth represents our physical selves. The element of Water is particularly associated with our emotions. We sweat when we’re afraid or guilty. We salivate when we desire something, and we shed tears when we experience grief or pain. And sometimes we cry for joy, too.

Water can be hard to contain as it flows and changes direction. Sometimes it nourishes us and refreshes us and cleanses us. Sometimes it threatens to drown us. Sounds a lot like emotion.

The Bible also uses water as a metaphor for our emotions. The book of Genesis actually starts with the chaos of pre-creation, a bottomless, formless sea, and the first thing God does after creating light is to organize and structure the waters.

Then there’s the great flood that wiped out the evil behavior among humans. The only people left were those who curbed their impulses, listened to God’s warning, and followed God’s instructions.

There’s the controlled power of the Red Sea, which parted and held still for the fleeing Israelites—in the same way we hold our breath in anticipation or anxiety, waiting for something that’s about to happen. And then the sea washed back over the pursuing oppressors, utterly destroying their perfectly organized army and their careful plans to bring their “property” home.

There’s Jonah, whose ship was about to go down in a storm. He confessed to the sailors that he was running away from God’s will for him, and he advised them to throw him overboard. Reluctantly, they did so. And immediately the storm of Jonah’s guilt, the chaos of his willfulness, calmed down, and the ship was saved. (Jonah had more work to do, however.)

There’s Jesus calming the storm with a few words—“Peace! Be still!”, or walking serenely on the billowing surface of a stormy lake.

Each of these stories describes the chaotic storms of emotion that can overwhelm us—panic, anxiety, terror, exhaustion, grief, anger, shame and guilt, hatred.

You may be feeling pretty overwhelmed right now—I know I often am. It’s easy to feel like we’re drowning in troubles. It’s all too much for any one individual.

So, what can we do for ourselves and for each other as the storms rage? How can we find calm waters for ourselves and for each other?

We can offer help, and we can ask for help before we feel completely overwhelmed. We can listen to each other’s fears and concerns. We can do what we know we must do as we face the pandemic—going back to masks and social distancing, at least for a while. We can continue and increase the things we do to live respectfully on the earth. We do all these things in the name of that same unconditional love that calmed the storm.

And we can find that still water that the Bible promises us. Remember that those green pastures and still waters are there for you, too, and for me. They are a promise to us.

God’s presence in our lives is like a pool of still water, and God’s love leads us there, gently, to a sense of calm and safety. God quenches our spiritual thirst, like that brook that the deer craves, and that stream never runs dry.

What does it feel like to find that stream of pure love?

These days, I watch my niece with her year-old son, who hasn’t yet learned about social customs and manners. He uses her hair to pull himself to his feet, pokes his fingers up her nose, paints his hair and eyebrows with his lunch. And she mops him up and hugs him and calls him beautiful, smart, creative, curious boy! And so does his father.

Because in his parents’ eyes, he is perfect. He is doing exactly what he should be doing at that moment in his young life. That kind of love is what the deer—and we!—are looking for, and that’s where the sheep are gently led. They are loved, soothed, nurtured, and refreshed just because they exist, just because they are who or what they are, because that’s what love does.

Remember the woman Jesus met at the well? The one who had searched for love with six different men, and apparently had not yet found it? This love is what the Woman at the Well was hoping for, and it’s the living, spiritual water that Jesus promised her. And he said, once you taste that water, you’ll never be thirsty again.

But how can you find that water? How can you even find that good shepherd who will lead you there?

Sometimes it’s too much for the imagination to try to experience the infinity of an unseen God’s love.

So let’s make it a bit more accessible. Think about what face God’s unconditional love wears in your world. Is it Jesus, or his mother, or a saint you loved as a child? Is it your own parents or an ancestor? Is it a dog or cat or other non-human companion? Is it Mount Rainier, or a forest, or the ocean, or even a creek that runs near your home? Maybe unconditional love looks like that pool of still water where the sheep lie down. For me, right now, it’s one of my grandmothers.

Can you take some time to visualize that person or pet or entity pouring love over you, so much so that it refreshes and surrounds and sustains you, offers you the assurance that love is there for you, even in the darkest hours of the night, even in the loneliness of social isolation, even in your despair and exhaustion?

Finding our place of still water, that sense of God’s loving presence, can help calm the storms we’re dealing with, give us a respite from feeling like we’re drowning.

But sometimes we need more lively water, and so we pray and work for justice and compassion to flow down like an everlasting stream–and this is one of those times.

Sometimes the power of that stream can break down barriers on its own. Often, though, we have to go out and help break down the dams of injustice and hatred. But we do that work with the faith that there is actually is a stream of righteousness that will pour down.

For most of the last century, the Elwha River, over on the Olympic Peninsula, was blocked by two dams that generated electricity for a small area. Before the dams, the river had supported enormous salmon runs. But now the lake behind the second dam was silting up, the water was stagnant, and the salmon runs had been mostly destroyed.

People who had loved the river and the salmon—native people and others—worked for decades to try to get the dams removed. And finally, in 2012, the first dam came down—the largest dam removal ever—and the second went two years later. And now that little river runs wild again, down to the ocean. And once again, its waters host runs of every species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Helping the stream of justice and compassion flow means confronting institutionalized oppressions: racism, homophobia, sexism, bullying, hierarchies of income or housing. And that work is as demanding as tearing down a physical dam.

Sometimes it’s even more difficult to do this necessary work when we have to confront these issues in our friendships or other relationships. But we have to do this to enable the cleansing flow, and we do it with a sense of trust and hope that behind the dams and structures of denial there is a vast supply of compassion and justice—an everlasting stream, bigger than any individual—that can flow freely when we’ve all done what has to be done. And then everyone downstream—plants, animals, humans, the land itself, other relationships—everyone gets to drink from the beautiful river of love and justice.

So Water expresses God’s love, both as a comforting source of calm and rest, and as the rush and power of justice and compassion. And all waters—calm or rushing—join together as one great ocean of love that surrounds us and feeds us and gives life to us all.

Thanks be to Water that shows us God’s love!


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