Elwah River in Olympic National Park
Water images have dominated my thoughts this week. Gary Bailey’s funeral (see 1/5 post), the Life of Pi, and my Sunday sermon all have strong water themes. The Life of Pi centers on a sea survival story; my sermon will be on Jesus’ baptism. Water evokes both fear and hope, death and life.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I saw a lot of water. On a clear day my family home had a view of the Puget Sound, but I also experienced plenty of clouds and rain. The abundant rain kept everything green and alive, but when I had to deliver the afternoon newspaper, rain could make the load and route miserable. While backpacking in the mountains I would marvel at how glaciers of ice carved such spectacular landscape. Yet when it became necessary to cross glacier-fed rivers, I realized that with one wrong step I could easily become one of boulders tumbling towards the sea.
In the Bible water is a symbol of the chaos and destruction as well as life. In Genesis 1:2, the water is part of the dark void before God’s creative Word is spoken. In Exodus the Red Sea destroys the Egyptian army while providing a means of escape for the Israelites. In I Kings 17-18, a drought is a sign of God’s displeasure with King Ahab, but later Elijah demonstrates God’s power to bring healing rain. Jesus calms the stormy sea that threatens life in Mark 4 while in John 4 Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water. Water can destroy or give life.
What water image brings you life or hope?
Life o Pi
Yesterday I wrote about a visit to a church in the novel Still Alice. That scene stands in sharp contrast to the church visit described in Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the other novel I am reading. Whereas Alice receives little spiritual comfort from her short visit , Piscine (Pi) takes a much more patient approach to his visit. He is a young teenager, who is on a spiritual quest in his native India. While his family is on vacation, he climbs a hill to a Christian church and walks around it, afraid at first to enter. Behind the church he discovers the rectory and from a hiding place, he secretly observes the parish priest inside. After a period of observation Pi states,
“I was filled with a sense of peace. But more than the setting, what arrested me was my intuitive understanding that he was there -open, patient – in case someone, anyone, should want to talk with him; a problem of the soul, a heaviness of the heart, a darkness of the conscience, he would listen with love. He as a man whose profession it was to love, and he would offer comfort and guidance as best he could.” p. 52
Pi eventually walks into the rectory and has several long conversations with the priest. Those conversation may be worthy of other posts, but the main point today is how does one prepare such an open, receptive setting for those who come on spiritual quests? Would those seeking even come to a church today? How do we practice true hospitality?