I pushed aside the curtain and reached for a towel. After a long, rainy day and a long, hot shower, I wanted to be dry as soon as possible.
The whole week had been one deluge after another.
On Monday, a pipe had burst in our church, directly over the altar. As water drenched the new carpets, we scuttled into the sacristy for morning Mass while the building manager frantically called the plumber.
I tried to cheer my fellow worshippers. “We’re all gathered around the altar, just like the early Christians.”
“Yeah — in the catacombs,” a nun quipped from a cramped corner.
On Tuesday, mudslides in southern California had spilled through homes, businesses and headlines. Heavy rains had melted the soil — recently ravaged by wildfires — into waist-high rivers of earth, killing at least 19 people.
Back east, a bitter cold spell was causing water mains to break throughout our city.
And on Friday, I watched from my office window as rain mingled with mourners’ tears at the funeral of a fallen firefighter. An American flag clung to his casket in heavy, wet folds; hundreds of his comrades stood at attention under the streaming skies.
Later that afternoon, as I trudged through oil-streaked puddles to the subway, I cursed the soaking wetness that seemed to make everything dull and difficult. Once home, I cursed still more after discovering that my basement had flooded from a clogged drain.
After mopping up the mess and showering, I retreated to the couch, the week’s events swirling into a single question:
Where are you, Lord, in all this water?
The symbol of life itself, water — without which even the creatures of the desert perish — can so easily bring death and destruction.
“Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck,” cries the psalmist. “I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold … The flood overwhelms me” (Psalm 69:2, 3).
Through water, the Lord purged the earth of the “wickedness of human beings” (Genesis 6:5), sheltering only Noah, his family and remnants of creation in the ark (Genesis 6:5-8:22). Later,
the Lord “cast the Egyptians into the midst of the sea” when they sought to overtake the fleeing Israelites (Exodus 14:27, 28).
Jonah was hurled into the roiling ocean after flouting the Lord’s orders; only the belly of a great fish spared him a certain death (Jonah 2:1-11). The disciples cowered as a violent squall threatened to drown them, along with a sleeping Jesus (Mark 4:35-40, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25).
So how did the Lord manage to nap as those waves were “breaking over the boat” (Mark 4:37)?
And was he dozing now, with so many in our world flailing in the “torrents of destruction” (Psalm 18:5)?
Far from it.
“At the very dawn of creation,” the Roman Missal declares, recalling Genesis 1:2, “(God’s) Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness” (Roman Missal, Easter Vigil 42: Blessing of Water).
That same Spirit kissed the river Jordan, alighting on Jesus as he stood dripping after his obedient baptism by a humbled John: “(He) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22).
In a sense, the Spirit had never ceased to hover over the waters, even at their most troubled. Long before Christ waded into the Jordan, the Lord had parted the Red Sea, leading the Israelites through its midst to escape the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 14:10-22).
And he promised to guide them through every billow and breaker thereafter: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away” (Isaiah 43:2).
The Lord is very much in the midst of the flood, and he transforms those waters into the means of salvation.
The word “baptize,” from the Greek baptizein, “means to ‘plunge’ or ‘immerse’” (CCC, 1214), and indeed Christ plunged into the very depths of human experience, taking on our sins and sufferings — and, through his cross, plunging them in turn into the mysterious abyss of God’s justice and mercy.
In the sacrament of Baptism, we come to share in this salvation. Water, flowing from the pierced side of the crucified Christ, now “symbolizes not only death and purification, but also regeneration and renewal” (CCC, 1262, 1225).
If we’re willing to drown in this flood, we will find — even in tears and torrents — a Lord who “(walks) about on the bottom of the deep” (Job 38:16), and a God who “(reaches) down from on high” to draw us “out of the deep waters” (Psalm 18:17).