When You Pass Through Deep Waters
The Old Testament reading for this day, “Baptism of Christ” Sunday, comes from the prophet Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 43: 1 – 7.
Here’s a bit of it, from verses 1 – 3:
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned; and the flame shall not consume you.
“For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, you Savior.”
When I was in my early 30’s I was struggling. A found myself overwhelmed by the challenges of a new call. I felt there had been a “bait and switch,” in terms of what the Search Committee promised and the reality on the ground. I turned my anger inward on myself. I took too much on myself and experienced a fairly serious season of depression.
In the midst of it, I decided to spend several days on retreat at something called The Spiritual Life Center run by a couple of older Maryknoll sisters. At my first meeting with Sr. Katherine she assigned me Isaiah 43: 1 – 3 for prayer and meditation. The idea was to read this passage, prayerfully over and over, and see where it led. She suggested that where I came to a name, e.g. Jacob, Israel, I replace it with my own name. And then she sent me off, saying as if in afterthought and with a warm smile, “Oh, and if you fall asleep that’s okay; you’re probably exhausted.”
As I read and prayed this passage, and placed myself in it more deeply through the use of my own name, something happened. I felt as if I could breathe. For the first time in a long time, I felt I could breathe. Of course, I had been breathing, but it was as if I now could breathe deeply. I was addressed by Another, by God, with words that said I was known, loved and not alone. I would come out on the other side.
It strikes me that most all of us experience such times in our lives, times when we feel overwhelmed and when we may not feel all that great about ourselves. Right now, amid the continuing challenges of COVID, and all the other overwhelmings that weigh so heavily upon us, from climate change to democracy at risk, as well as the personal ones — health crisis, transitions, grief and loss — these words of the prophet Isaiah may speak to you as they have to me.
Pray them slowly, over and over. Put your name in where other proper names appear. Hear the word of God’s assurance for you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” And of promise, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned . . .”
Oh, and if you should find yourself, falling asleep, it’s okay. You may be exhausted.