“Are you ok?”
“Is your family safe?”
“Did you get any water?”
When I went to church this morning- our first full Eucharist since hurricane Harvey- I was bombarded by those same three questions everywhere I went. Most of us knew how the others were, thanks to social media. But some of us hadn’t seen each other since before the storm, and all the questions were about the water.
The water. This storm has changed the way I feel about water. I used to love rain, and maybe one day I will again, but right now the thought of rain just sounds threatening and terrible. I never understood the awesome, destructive force that water could be until I drove through a river that was usually a street, until I saw the highways of my city turned into seas, until my friends’ and neighbors’ homes were all but washed away. Until I saw water flood the house where my priest lives for the second time in less than 18 months. Water not only took homes, it took treasured belongings, people’s pets, and even some people’s lives. It took the life of my friends’ son a little less than a year ago, when he drowned in a swimming pool.
It’s difficult to see water this way. It’s difficult to feel that the one substance that all of creation counts on to survive has somehow become a force that’s destroying life. Right now, water feels toxic. It feels almost animalistic, like a living thing with a mind of its own, attacking the people of my community, my city, my state.
What brings me back from that fearful place is the reminded of what water means to us as Christians, and especially as Episcopalians. To us, water is living; it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It is what baptizes us into our lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. We are washed in water then sealed and marked with oil as Christ’s own forever. During Eucharist every Sunday, some water is poured into the wine before it is given to the people. I’ve heard several explanations for this: 1) the water and wine together represent the water and blood that poured from Jesus’ side during the Crucifixion, 2) the water represents Christ’s humanity and the wine His divinity so the mixing of the two is us witnessing his human transformation, 3) the water represents us, the people, and the wine represents Christ, and the mixing symbolizes how we can never be separated. My personal favorite is #3, but those all make sense. The point is that water has a very central place in our liturgy, a very central place in Scripture, a very central place in life. It is the most life-giving substance on earth, both biologically and spiritually, and yet here it is, in hurricane form, causing so much devastation. So much pain. So much loss.
For everyone I know who has been terrorized by water in the last week, my prayer for you is that as you find your new normal, and you work to repair what you can, and as we, your community, help you do so, that you would remember the waters of your baptism. The waters that washed you clean of sin and grafted your hearts onto Christ’s own for eternity. May you feel the healing powers of water: of a hot shower, a good cup of tea. May we remember that everything that has within it the power to destroy, also has within it the power to create.
Together, may we create a brighter future beyond the storm.
And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.