The Thickness of Water

scotland coastAs many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

—Galatians 3:27-29

Why is it that when I stand at the edge of the sea, my life immediately becomes introspective?  Is it the external vastness, the yawning expanse that prompts such internal thoughts?  Is it some complex equating of infinity with eternity, merging the sea’s infinite stretch toward the distant horizon with my pondering eternal truths or hopes or fears deep in my heart?  Any answer I might give, here, invariably lacks precision.  My only certain answer to these questions is that, without fail, the sea makes me think. 

For the last week, I laid my head on a pillow beneath a window that famed the North Sea, a sea that even during the summer looks cold and distant and brooding.  There it washed, each night, as it has since before the first eyes looked upon it, the first stones laid in the soil to build the university, the first steps I took toward my time of fellowship and study at the university in St. Andrews. Those waters wash away time, linking past with present.  Those waters erode space, dissolving miles that separated friends and colleagues.  For a short moment in that ocean’s memory, a new community forms, a community drawn from continents washed by waters from that same sea, a community defined by difference and distance yet drifting together because of another body of water. 

I was staggered by the distance and the diversity that defined us. While only a few dozen, we were conservative and liberal, Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox, North American and African and European and Asian and islanders, old and young and in-between, gay and straight, clerical and non, cloistered and secular.  While an amazing mixture, in some respects we were exactly what I should have expected because we were all drawn together because we have all been washed towards each other by the waters baptism.

In the above passage from Galatians, Paul reminds his readers that they are familiar with the soluble yet binding nature of water because they all have enjoyed the washing of baptism.  Their baptisms have made a new people, dissolving race and class and gender.  In dissolving, those waters have, also, solidified a new humanity, a notion of humanity that forms all into one, irrespective of status or stature or station.  As Paul intimates, his readers are all Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.  And, that promise of Abraham as issued in Genesis is a declaration that all of humanity would one day be bound tightly to each other and to their God.  Here, Paul intimates that water has the perplexing capacity to draw the high to the low and the far to the near and the disparate to the desperate, making a new kind of people evidentiary of that primordial promise.  They are, Paul asserts, a body bound by water.  This water-bound body reflects, in the Genesis imagination, a vision of humanity incrementally seen, first in one people and then in all people.  For a moment last week, around a table I found myself drifting away from our conversation, wading through the same introspective gaze I offered the sea earlier in the week.  In that gaze, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom Abraham was promised and Paul envisioned, a kingdom of what might be, a kingdom serving as a witness to the power of water.  

This week, whether it is a mountain’s vista or a friend’s warm welcome, may we each find our own sea upon which to gaze, imaging a world that might be, a world defined by what we share and what might be more than what differentiates and what was.  May the waters wash over us all, mysteriously dissolving while forming.

Have a great week.  See you along the way.

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