Some of my favorite religious songs are songs about water. Themes of thirst being quenched, heading down to the river and being washed clean really resonate with me.
As I helplessly watch the Houston (and now New Orleans) waters rise on television and social media, I think about how those songs must sound to people whose lives have been turned upside down and endangered by water. Coming to the fountain no longer sounds refreshing. There’s no going down to the river when the river has arrived at your door. Water is no longer cleansing, but damaging and deadly.
The Bible is full of water imagery. But it was written in a part of the world where water is scarce, so drought was much more of a threat than floods. Elijah, Jeremiah and Haggai all predicted drought as punishment for people who had turned against God. Rain was considered a blessing and a sign of God’s favor. I’m pretty sure that those evacuating and stuck in their homes are not feeling particularly favored right now.
There are, of course, times in the Bible when water is deadly. The story of Noah’s ark (which has become a bizarrely popular nursery theme). The rest of the story of the parting of the Red Sea in which all of Pharoah’s army is drowned. But those were all “bad” people who were being punished. And, there will be those who wrongly say (and have said) that this is why the flooding is happening in Houston–although I think there’s disagreement about what the people are being punished for. Because we’ve eliminated prayer in schools, allowed gay people to have rights or laughed at all late-night talk show jokes about our President. Who knows? But it for sure has nothing to do with science.
But no matter how destructive water can be, we still need it to survive. Water is life-sustaining. It is critical to our physical and spiritual health.
As the waters rise and as the waters recede, may those who have been flooded out still find sustenance and strength in the living water that is the Holy Spirit
May churches that have been damaged or outright destroyed by water once again see the baptismal font as a symbol of renewal and redemption
May the pain and sorrow of those who have lost everything to water be washed away on the waves of God’s mercy
May there come time when people who ran from the water can once again stand and sing about rivers and fountains and oceans without cringing or crying.
May those of us who remain on dry land be willing to dive into the deep with our waterlogged brothers and sisters and help to rebuild with whatever resources we have to offer.