Saturday, March 26, 2011

"where the tide regularly ebbs and flows"

I was truly mesmerized by it!
After all it was my first experience to view such a large body of water. I’ve heard about it but I’ve never known what sea could look like! It was the biggest one; at least that was what my small mind thought it was. I was young and naïve; bred inland and never been to a coast and the sight I was beholding was such a beauty that I could not refrain from being drawn to it.

And I dared come closer to find out more about this sight that was totally new to me.

So there was I, standing on the fine sands of the shore, totally fascinated by the approaching waves of the sea, and I slowly gravitated into a playful mood and began to pretend I was being chased by the waves; knowing fully well that at a given distance they will return to the place whence they came.

When the waves would retreat, it was my cue to chase them back, also to a certain point. Then I’d wait until they come on again and I would turn around and once again pretend they’re chasing after me and the chasing game went on and on. I still cherish those memories and I miss that simple game between me and the sea. I didn’t know then, but now I know that what fascinated me was the process when “the tide regularly ebbs and flows.” The waters move back and forth; they come and they go; they were ebbing and flowing and it was indeed quite “regular” and very predictable.

That imagery of the tide regularly ebbing and flowing ran parallel with the sight I saw while standing on the bank of the still waters of Lake Ontario, one summer morning. Yes, the tide ebbed and flowed but in a rather mild manner almost evoking a peaceful lapping of a gentle wave to a calm shore.

This serene ebbing and flowing, however, runs in conflict with the images I saw when the media first shared the disturbing news of the raging waters in Japan. They were waves of destruction; waves that obliterated settlements; waves that wiped out communities and waves that ended lives. When the waters receded, all there was left were debris of large magnitude; sordid reminders of a horrible calamity that became an ugly memory too difficult to erase.

Three different images of bodies of water. One in a playful mood, eliciting excitement in the adventures of a young boy. Next was illustrative of calmness and serenity and the third was of anguish, when it became a tool of devastation and annihilation. It became a disturbing image of a cruel tide that ebbed and flowed and hopefully never to be seen again.

Our readings for this 3rd Sunday in Lent lend us further of images hovering around the theme of water. First, we have the imagery of water as an element so basic for sustenance. Our Old Testament Reading for today, taken from Exodus 17:1-7, tells us of what happened to the Hebrews when they were on their way to the Promised Land having been removed from the oppressive yoke of Pharaoh in Egypt. They ran out of water and complained about their alleged abandonment by Yahweh.

In this rather intriguing exchange of verbiage, once again God assured them of His abiding presence and used water as a conduit between Him and His Chosen People, thereby reaffirming that connectivity between them in their relationship, one which was never meant to be abandoned in the first place. In this Exodus story, water, gushing forth from the rock, is a powerful reminder of God’s saving grace that can be had even from the driest situation in life as typified by the rock in all its dryness and aridity.

Pursuing this imagery even further would allow us to look at how we ourselves have behaved during those times of alleged abandonment; those times when our “water” of sustenance seems to have evaporated and disappeared and we panicked with extreme anxiety that our travel in life will abruptly end. I am quite certain that for some, their behavior during those trying times is a true image of the one shown by the Hebrews of old. Its contemporary equivalent could be illustrated in a scenario like when someone’s assets have been drastically compromised and previous lifestyles equally downsized. “My water is gone!” “My water is running out!” Consequently, the blame game begins and at times, even God is drawn into it as when the Hebrews of old wondered whether Yahweh was among them or not.

Our first imagery of water, that of being part of a playful stance, could be a good one to employ in this regard. Somehow, because we know that the tide ebbs and flows in equally regularity we never imagine it as something that will be running out in a moment’s notice. We take it for granted. One wave comes and another goes. Indeed, the tide regularly ebbs and flows and then we forget that such course of action lies in the hands of God who, as in the case of the water that gushed forth from the rock, provides us with all that we have.

Water can indeed be essential to our sustenance and it is essential to living as well, as this second story tells us.

The second image hails from the gospel story from John (John 4:5-42). This rather long pericope, talks about the encounter of Jesus with a Samaritan woman who was drawing water from a public well called Jacob’s well.

Other than the unusual turn of events, as in a male Jew and a Rabbi talking with a woman and a Samaritan, the story presents another imagery about water; this time, as living water. Jesus made this allusion to himself as the source of living water in the following passage.  “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (NRSV John 4:7)

In the course of his ministry, Jesus would issue forth certain claims about himself in what is known as the “I am” sayings; “I am the Bread of Life.” “I am the Light of the world.”  “I am the Gate”  “I am the Good Shepherd.”  “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  “I am the true vine”.

While not directly claiming to be the Living Water, Jesus nonetheless assures those who believe and follow him, that He is the Source of that Living Water. God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit is the very “Source of our Well-Being”; we are alive; just as being fed by the living water, because He is the Giver of Life and all things come of Him. To be assured of this never-ending and life-giving water is God’s gift to His creation. And that Living Water could be both calm and serene, with equal regularity in its ebbing and flowing but it could also be devastating as in its imagery as a raging tool of destruction. Jesus himself has warned those who wish to follow him that they need to “pick up their cross” and may even go so far as forsake all others in His name. And yet the gift of God’s saving grace may be the sweetest taste that emanates from the gift of living water.

As we continue our observance of a holy Lent, we now have this wonderful opportunity of engaging in a reflection on the claim we make that we, at one time, got ourselves virtually wet by the waters of baptism; when we were bathed, so to speak, with the water of destruction unto sin and the water of calmness and serenity in our new birth in Christ Jesus.
And as we pursue our faith journey and travel the path we have chosen by virtue of our baptism, may we also find time to engage ourselves in mission and every so often, frolic in our engagement of chasing and be chased by the challenges on the shore of Christian living "where the tide regularly ebbs and flows”.

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