At our mid-Summer baptism this past Sunday, I was struck by the looks of fascination on the faces of our parish children gathered at the foot of the font at the chancel steps. They seemed especially enthralled by, of all things, the water. As Matthew Hanisian poured it into the font, they were staring and pointing at it, as if it were a strange and mysterious substance. Part of the attraction surely had to do with seeing something so familiar and simple here being used within the context of worship. It was experiencing something from their everyday life re-presented in a sacred context. That is what sacraments do, and it is the reason for their true power. What is so significant about sacraments is not that they are otherworldly, but, rather, that they begin with something so common. Water, bread, wine, oil, words, and physical contact are the “stuff” of sacraments. There are no magic potions or secret ingredients involved. It is out of everyday things, available to absolutely everyone, that our lives are transformed.
An article in The Anglican Digest a while ago written by a parish priest reflecting on the water in the Holy Land. He noted there are only three significant bodies of water there: two “seas” that are really lakes, and one river that feeds them both. In the north, the Jordan River flows in its entirety into the Galilee and then comes out of it again. The Galilee is a sea of giving. It not only nourishes all the surrounding countryside, and crops, plants, and trees abound; it is also the chief water supply for the entire nation. It is filled with nutrients and minerals that support a large variety of fish and marine life, through which much of the nation and beyond is fed. The giving lake is alive and prosperous.
From the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan then runs further south until, many miles later, it empties into another lake. But here there is no giving. That lake takes in all the water it gets and hoards it. The surrounding land receives no benefit from it at all and, as a result, is an arid, barren desert. The lake contains nothing that is nourishing for anything. Because nothing flows out of it, the salt from its bed and sides is never flushed out. As a result that lake cannot support in any form, and the water is undrinkable and unusable. The name for the non-giving lake is the Dead Sea.
This description of water in the land that Jesus knew is a parable for us. In giving, we not only receive; we thrive, and so does the world around us. We were created to give in order to keep us connected with each other, to make ourselves sensitive and responsive to the needs of the world, and to carry out the responsibilities with which God has entrusted us as human beings within the creation. When we try to keep it all for ourselves, usually out of the fear that there won’t be enough, we cut ourselves off from life itself and eventually become diminished ourselves and increasingly unsatisfied. Selfishness turns joy into sorrow and life into death. When we give out of the abundance that we have received from God, we find the true fulfillment we were meant to enjoy in this life.
In our prayer over the water at baptism, we give thanks for the gift of the water out of which we were created and through which the Spirit has lead the people of God from slavery to liberation, freedom, and new life. Water is a sign of growth and vitality, the wellspring of our hope and God’s eternal promise. May we all, through our giving and our stewardship of creation, come to know the Living Water of Christ, the water that revives, restores, and renews us. This is the water that brings satisfaction, the water that gives life forever.
Images: Top-The Sea of Galilee, photographer unknown; Bottom-The Dead Sea by deror_avi.
A wonderful reflection in so many ways. A thought . . . even those who appear to have nothing to give may surprise us, as does the Dead Sea with its healing properties. In 1989 St. Alban’s pilgrims bathed there and were amazed to find that aches and pains were relieved for a time. Here’s an interesting looking web site. http://www.deadsea-health.org/new_html/about_us.html
Thanks for this interesting coda to my piece. There are, indeed, health spas along the Dead Sea shores for just that reason. They even sell the mud to use as a skin conditioner. It also provides the wondrous gift of frolic–there is nothing like bobbing around in a sea of unsinkability feeling like an inflated water toy. That’s a happy memory that lasts a long time.