Walk to the end of the world
where the ocean breaths on my face
Try to hear your echo in the waves
Try to see your face in the sea
Try to find a way to forget about me
What is it about water that calls us and calms us? The midwife played ocean sounds as my wife gave birth to our youngest. From the smallest spring run to the vast sea, water draws us. We go there to find peace, to find pieces of ourselves we have lost.
“Take me down to my boat on the river and I won’t cry out anymore.” (Styx)
Water so often represents life in scripture and song…”Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah)
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalms)
Today, I wished I could see the ocean again, but it’s far away. However, there is a little creek just past the edge of the woods that whispers the same secrets, only more quietly. I could stand and watch it, lost in roaming thoughts for an hour, but there is much work to be done.
Most of us today spend a lot of our time looking at screens, living in a sort of artificial reality, when the real thing is just outside our door. Perhaps the screens feel safer, but you can still drown there. And they don’t offer us what we really need, to be immersed in creation first hand, to feel the sunlight on our faces and hear the water-these are gifts, and I wonder how those in the concrete jungles live without them.
My wife and I used to visit a backwoods water fall when we were dating. There is a backwater swamp below the house I grew up in, that I would ride my bike or walk to whenever I could get away, to fish, or trap muskrats, or stare at the water by the light of the moon. Swamps gurgle and smell of loon poop mud and decaying vegetation. The smell feels like home to me. It’s not the ocean, but it has it’s own appeal. Then there’s the little pond with great bass fishing and the lake where we’ve spent so many hours kayaking, fishing or watching the sunset.
Some of the disciples were fishermen. They made their living from the sea, a sea that was really a very large freshwater lake. It couldn’t have been an easy life and I can imagine their rough hands, muscled arms and sun darkened faces, kind of like farmers who smelled like fish instead of corn and cow manure. They didn’t have rubber gloves and the smell of oily fish does not easily wash off.
Do you suppose they laughed at first when Jesus told them where to let down their nets?
“We’ve fished all night.” Peter says. “But, because you say so, we will give it another shot.”
You can almost hear him thinking: “What does an ex carpenter and wandering Rabbi know about fishing?” And when they were so sure they were dying in the demonic’s storm? “Jesus, you’re sleeping? Don’t you know that we drowning here?” Trusting Jesus on land must have been easier for them than on the sea. The water was their element. But after seeing him calm the storm and walk on the sea, maybe they begin to understand.
Just imagine for a moment that you are one of them, on a night when the sky is vast and clear and the water quiet. The stars feel close and the air is warm and moist. The only sounds are the far off frogs, birds and the occasional fish jumping. There is a peace that settles on you on nights like this, that is hard to find anywhere else. So you are all relaxed, and your mind is drifting, thinking about all you’ve seen and experienced the last few weeks, while hanging out with this wandering Rabbi, this ex carpenter from Nazareth, who is unlike anyone you’ve ever met. And let’s say that right there, in that quiet moment on the water, you really get it. Belief for you goes from being a vague notion, an ethereal religious concept wrapped in ritual and Torah recitation, to belief that is tangible and feels like a solid weight on your chest, so that you can suddenly barely breath. You know, now, without a single doubt, that God is right here in this boat with you, with his dirty feet almost in your face, eyes half closed, breathing in the same damp sea air that he created. And you just say it out loud without really thinking about how it sounds.
“You made this, Jesus? All of it?”
And his eyes open and he turns his head to face you fully and you see a grin starting. You wonder what he is thinking, knowing that he knows you are wondering. And then he tips his head back and laughs, not mocking, but joyful.
“Yes.” He whispers. “You like it? Because I made it for me, but for you, too.”
“Wait a minute!” A thought is peculating inside, but it is almost too wild to give voice to. “You knew, didn’t you?”
And behind you, Peter grunts.
“He knew what? What are you babbling about?”
But Jesus is smiling and nodding.
“I knew at creation that this night would come and I knew you would be here and you would ask this question.”
Peter sits straight up and mutters an oath.
Jesus is looking you right in the eye, his own eyes twinkling with silent laughter.
“Way.” He says.
The understatement is so crazy. That God would act this way, would be human like you, would wash away your doubt with gentle humor… your joyful laughter builds from inside until you are gasping for breath.
There’s something about water, that feels like life.
Quite often these musings come to me a piece at a time. I’ll have writer’s block for weeks, or just not take the time to write, and then one day, I’ll be sitting, pen in hand, and the flood gates will open on a subject and I’ll write several pages as fast as my hand can move. But, in some cases, such as this one, the end result doesn’t feel complete. So I put away my notebook and promptly forget which one I wrote in, and time passes before I get the final piece. This morning on the deer stand, I started to receive the final pieces of this post. I say: “Receive.”, because that’s how it feels, like I’m just the antenna for something God is saying.
But, there was another piece this time, in between. A dream. I know some Christians don’t believe God speaks through dreams anymore. That’s ok, he doesn’t need their permission!
As usually happens with dreams, I only remember a bit, if anything, in the morning. But the key parts of this one stuck with me. I was working my way down a rocky trail. On my left is an open area and then water. In between, I see my mother, sitting at table by herself. Now, Mom passed over to heaven early this year, but in my dream, seeing her doesn’t seem strange at all. It’s more like this: “Oh, there she is, I’ll go over and talk to her.” So, I continue down the trail, which is getting much steeper and more difficult. Down below, I start to see people and tents near the water. I finally manage to climb down to them, but when I look over, mom is gone. Again, there is no alarm or grief. It’s as if I know I will see her soon. I visit with some of the people, but I don’t remember what we talked about, and then I wake up.
I was thinking about the dream this morning and reading Revelation 22, because I had read a verse from this chapter last night in John Eldredges new book: “All things New.” and it reminded me of what I had written earlier about water.
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
I’ve been trying to figure out the dream for awhile now. I know the obvious interpretation is that the rocky trail is this life. And that I couldn’t reach Mom because she had crossed over to heaven. But this morning, I started to see other possibilities. Water represents life, that much I knew but when I wrote the first part, but I didn’t remember or think about the passage about the river of life flowing from the throne of God. No wonder it felt incomplete!
So now I hold this picture in my mind of Mom sitting and watching the waves, her white hair and blouse bright against the blue. I thought it was Lake Erie (she always loved the waves there) or Lake Wilhelm, but maybe, just maybe, the water represents the river of life. And maybe the people there represent all the Believers in this world. And maybe Mom was far off because she hadn’t only drank from the waters, like the others, but she has crossed over the her reward. She wasn’t struggling down the trail with me, to get to the water, she was sitting quietly, perfectly at peace. Of course, I wish I’d seen more. I wish I’d seen her walking way down the beach, hand in hand with Jesus. But I’m confident that God shows us what we need precisely when we need it. Mom’s ok, and she’s at peace. That’s all I need to know.
As for you, reading this, the living water is waiting for you, if you haven’t drank from it yet. The water is pure and the gift is free. Come down to the water to pray.