If You Feel Like You're Drowning, This Is For You
Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom God.
When I was a child, I almost drowned.
We were on holiday by the beach. I swam out into the sea; out to where my Dad and brother were playing in the water; out of my depth.
A huge wave gathered strength as it approached us. “You have to dive into it!” shouted my brother.
But I didn’t and the tide swallowed me whole.
Underneath the water, I was disoriented and panicky. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t fight against the current. I couldn’t get my head above the water. Time seemed to slow as I was tossed and turned about under the swell, before I was eventually deposited back onto the beach, shaken up, but alive.
Waves can submerge us in all kinds of ways.
We grieve painful losses. We struggle to survive the after effects of a trauma. We are swamped by disappointment or heartbreak or depression. We’re overwhelmed by the injustice we find all around us. Sometimes just the daily grind of being broken people living in a broken world is enough to pull us under. It’s disrupting and disorienting and can feel a lot like drowning.
Rachel Held Evans reminds us that ‘we know, as our ancestors did, both the danger and necessity of water.’ (Searching for Sunday) A tsunami will sweep away everything in its path. Floods destroy crops and houses, lives and livelihoods. Dirty water harbours parasites that cause death and disease. Powerful undercurrents can prove fatal to the strongest of swimmers.
And yet water also makes up 60% of our bodies. If we don’t quench our thirst with water regularly, we cannot survive. We are cushioned by the ‘watery’ environment of our mother’s womb during our first, most vulnerable moments of life. Water cleanses our bodies and feeds our crops. The ocean produces over half the oxygen we breathe. Rivers, lakes and seas allow us to play and to explore. We are drawn to places with views of the water that seem to bring us healing and peace.
In John’s Gospel, water is frequently seen as a sign of divine activity.
It’s associated with baptism and rebirth. It is turned into wine and becomes the catalyst for Jesus to talk to the Samaritan woman. Water is present in the spit and tears of Jesus, as he heals a blind man and raises Lazarus from the dead. It’s present as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. When he is crucified, water, along with blood, flows from Jesus’ side. After his resurrection, Jesus chooses to meet his disciples on the sea shore.
It’s no surprise then, that baptism is our entrance into the way of Jesus.
Our old way of being is swallowed up as we are submerged by the water. We are temporarily disoriented as we are ‘buried with him in baptism’ (Colossians 2:12) before being pulled out of the water, resurrected into the new way of love, peace and joy that we were always designed to live.
I was baptised as a child. Two adults I trusted stood either side of me and held me tight. I remember the momentary disorientation and panic as I was taken under the water. I remember the celebration and relief as I surfaced again and took that first breath. I remember the strong, safe hands that never let me go, not even for a moment.
It’s a beautiful picture of how Jesus treats us and how we are to treat each other.
In baptism,’ writes Will Willimon, ‘the recipient of baptism is just that - recipient. You cannot very well do your own baptism. It is done to you, for you.’ (Remember Who You Are: Baptism, A Model for Christian Life, p.37)
When the tidal waves hit, we cannot rescue ourselves, but we are not alone. Jesus promised never to leave us, and that there will be a day when there is ‘no more mourning or crying or pain.’ (Revelation 21:4) The waves will tire themselves out, the wind will die down and there will be peace once again.
Though we may not feel it, God is also work in the waves.
In the hands of Jesus, waves that might have threatened us are turned into a fresh baptism. Being swallowed by the tide feels a lot like death, but we are never alone, and we will be safely delivered onto the shore, into a fresh, beautiful new life.
After death, there is always resurrection.
How can you feel the hands of Jesus holding you through the storm? How might you be the hands of Jesus to someone who needs to know they are not alone?
I'm currently exploring the Gospel of John. You can catch up with previous posts here:
When the world is breaking your heart
When you're full of doubt, this is what you need to know
This is what you need to know when you're running on empty.