by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello
When I was seventeen my good friend Dave and I decided to go canoeing on a small river in New Hampshire in March just as the ice was breaking up in the early spring thaw. We both loved the outdoors and had often hiked and run through the woods in the area, basking in the serenity and joys of the natural world. However, on this day after happily paddling for half an hour the current pulled our canoe under a log fallen across the river and we capsized. We were tossed into the frigid water and struggled to hold on to the boat while shivering and gasping for air. We managed to get to shore and get home, but the experience brought me face to face with feelings of abandonment, fear, uncertainly and the undeniable sense that water, which I loved (and which is supposed to support life) might have more to teach me. As I reflected on this week’s readings—which introduce us to the themes of Lent: suffering, contemplation, redemption, temptation & salvation— I began to feel that the people in these passages might have felt as I did on that sunny March day many years ago.
In each reading there is a central focus on water and its power – both physical and spiritual. In Genesis, we encounter Noah and his family after they have regained footing on dry ground. They have survived a flood in which water was a symbol of death. There was too much of a good thing, if you will.
Now, almost ironically, they learn that for all eternity it will take more rain to bring about each rainbow—God’s promise that life will go on. In the second reading the fearful flood of Genesis is recast to prefigure baptism. Here we are asked to consider the life-giving nature of water and its ability to purify and cleanse the soul. Yet, in Mark’s gospel water is in short supply. Mark tells of Jesus’ forty day sojourn in the desert, a waterless place that tests the body’s resolve. But the lack of water does more than this.
Here the image is of a lifeless wilderness where the absence of water appears to provide the perfect conditions for temptation. In both its presence and its absence then, these readings suggest that water can shake one’s faith. So too can it provide hope for the future. Is it not the same with God’s love? Love with the power to nourish and challenge, bring us to tears and bring us joy. An absence of God (as in the desert) brings unimagined terror and strife while baptism in water (being immersed in God’s love) brings life.
In today’s world water politics are on everyone’s lips and global warming threatens the lives and livelihoods of humans and animals the world over. Perhaps embracing the connection between God’s love and water as described in today’s readings is a way to make a link between our spiritual lives and our external lives. As we enter this season of Lent, in which we are called to the joyful contemplation of God’s love and Christ’s suffering and resurrection, these readings illuminate the fine line between life and death and the ways in which that which can be good in some times and places (and proportions) can destroy in others. As each of us considers how mark Lent perhaps we can consider including water? If you fast you might think of your periodic thirst as a reminder that you are alive? If you wash dishes each night you might make this a meditative activity as you cherish the water you use and focus your attention on its warmth, its wetness, and its power to clean. Perhaps you will consider conserving water this Lent…after all, rainbows are only possible if there is rain.
Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello is still an avid outdoorswoman, cherishing the beauty and the potential danger of the wilderness, and always feeling closest to God when surrounded by water and trees. At the moment she is living in land-locked Strasbourg, France where both are in relatively short supply.