Every particle of love,
any sprig of an herb, speaks of water.
Follow the tributaries.
Everything we say has water within it.
No need to explain this to a thirsty man.
He knows what to do.
I grew up in the desert. When it did rain, it was turbulent and carnal. The meant you had approximately five minutes to enjoy it. The call “It’s raining!” would echo through the house. Umbrellas were grabbed, socks were torn off, and pants were rolled up. We tumbled out of the door to the street as fast as we could run. The gutters became our little rivers. Thrown-in sticks and leaves raced each other down the street. My brother would build dams for us to stomp in and my sister would throw back her head and bellow, “Singing in the rain! Just singing in the rain!” We would master our dance routine just as the rain stopped.
Because of this lack of water, I became a desert. I was always thirsty. My skin, like a beggar, dried up until it cracked and bled. I have an awful memory of waking up to so many splits on my feet that I couldn’t put any pressure on them to get out of bed. I got on my knees and crawled down the hall to the kitchen to get some breakfast. Sometimes I was so raw that there was nothing to do but sit in the pain and burn. I would calm my mind, try and slow my breathing, and let my mind wander to wet climates.
At seventeen, I jumped at the chance to live in El Salvador for the summer. The air there was heavy and thick and damp. I had never experienced air like that. Water was encapsulated in the molecules. The first time it rained, my hosts must have thought I was crazy. I hurried into my swimming suit and ran out the back door. The rain came down in heavy sheets and it was warm! I got my shampoo and soap and took a shower standing out in their open yard. It didn’t stop for hours and for the first time in my life, I slept all night long with the sound of rain on the roof.
I took joy in water coming from up above, but I was always afraid of water from below. If screaming, “Help! Help!” every time my head came out of the water as I was trying to earn my guppy badge and reach the other side of the swimming pool could be defined as “a bit,” then that is the level of my fear. This is why I like boats. I can be on the water, but not of the water, so to speak.
When I was visiting the Sea of Galilee, I thought a lot about water and boats. I rode on a long flat one with a wooden-planked dance floor. The sailors piped in Israeli music while we danced – clapping and raising our exuberant arms. They eyed us from a corner while making little stone pendants with Messianic Jewish symbols catering to Christian tourists. I loved the feeling of being out on the water but still able to dance. On one of the sunset-filled evenings, I mustered my courage and ran down a small pier, throwing myself into the fuchsia-colored light and the cold water. Seven times I went under into the wet darkness and seven times I rose gasping a prayer of recommitment to fulfill my personal mikveh. Despite that brave moment, I feel safer on the shore or in a boat.
While on the Galilee, I imagined the different scenes from Christ’s life. Christ loved water. He hung out at wells, turned water into wine, was baptized by immersion, healed people by having them bathe, and washed off dirty feet. While walking on the shore of His favorite place, I imagined him calling out to the fisherman as they filled their nets or calming the waters during a black storm. The most poignant stories to me, however, are those of the interactions between Peter, the water, and Christ.
Christ called Peter out of the boat to walk on the water toward Him. Peter and the apostles must have felt safe in the boat. It was a cozy living room to gather in and talk about their experiences. There they served and worked. The boat was symbolic of their purpose. They pulled men, like fish, into the net of conversion and the safety of the boat. It defined them as a group and took them across the waters to different areas where they could share the gospel and deliver Jesus to the crowds. Maybe they took turns acting as Captain or pulling the oars or manning the sails. It must have been their “good ship Zion.”
Can you imagine what courage and faith Peter had to lift his legs over the side of the boat when he saw Christ walking on water? The hull was rising up and down on the swells as Peter looked at the blue-green depths. Then he heard Christ’s voice calling him to take the leap off the boat and come. Could we measure faith by the moments Peter’s feet were in the air before they found the suddenly solid water? I don’t know how many steps Peter took before unbelief made him sink, but Christ was there anyway to grab his hand. “All thy billows and thy waves passed over me.The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. The earth with her bars was about me forever…when my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord.” (Jonah 2) If grace is water, Jesus is the ocean.
The next story I love occurred after the resurrection. The apostles returned to the reassurance of their wooden boat after the harrowing week in Jerusalem. Peter denied Christ three times and must have felt the shame of it. They unsuccessfully fished all night when a voice called from the shore telling them where to lower their nets. They hauled in a “great number” of fish. Afterward, a disciple exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” At that point, Peter did not need to be called forward and encouraged out of the boat. He was not tentative. He threw himself in the water toward Christ. He completely abandoned himself to faith and to Jesus. There was no fear to overcome. Peter didn’t stay in the boat and say, “Hey, maybe we should finish our three-hour fishing block schedule, have a linger-longer, and then head over to shore to see who that might be.” Peter was not an onlooker, he was a doer. He barely took the time to throw on some clothes before leaping heart-first toward living water. There was no certainty of what he would find when he finally got to shore, but his complete submersion into water symbolized his willingness to leave the boat and find Christ.
I long to be like Peter casting himself into the deep to come to Christ. I want to hurl myself out of the safety of the boat and have no fear of the water. I want to drink from His spring, dance in His rain, wade in His creeks, swim in His rivers, and be swallowed in the seas of His love. You are cleansed when you move through water and I want to be a slippery silver fish. No more boats. I want the water to become my natural habitat.
What is your natural habitat? How would you describe your relationship with Christ?