Immersive prayer


It took a long time for spring to warm up the north coast, but finally I found myself back in the lake, larger than Galilee, still substantially cooler, swimming.

For me, swimming in open water, in the lake or especially the ocean, has become a form of prayer.

For one, there is the familiar battle between body and spirit. It is only weeks since the water was frozen. I think of Jesus, walking on its surface. Was it gentle, rocking his feet like a mother cradling her child; or was it more like the boulders that formed as the ice compressed into hillocks and valleys? Was it hard, to walk across the sea risking a broken ankle with every solid ripple? And what if, like Peter, I tried it and sank, only to find it solidifying around me, gripping me around the neck, buried alive in congealed water?

For another, as the ice melts, there is the ever-present unseen danger of undercurrents, rip tides, devilishly tricky, tempting, deviant, prowling beneath the surface like a shark smelling out prey.

Prayer can lead down strange avenues, as light is distorted by water, bending images into curious, half-remembered shapes. One cannot swim without surrendering to the water; one cannot survive unless one can emerge, at length, dripping onto dry land. It is not, after all, as though God is dried off with the final “Amen.”

In spring, cold constricts the torso which must somehow still expand to let in air before the waves close off the breath and its silent, fumbling words; but gradually a truce is reached and a mantra chosen: breath, unbreath; breath, unbreath, and I marvel anew at the chance to reenter the womb of God’s creation, the deep waters, with the chance to be born again.


The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. She blogs at over the water

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