(Photo from the rebuilding after the Great Flood of 1993, by Andrea Booher, public domain, courtesy of FEMA)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, November 9, 2018:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.”
Part of the beauty of doing the Daily Office as a spiritual discipline is that, with a notable few diversions during Advent, Christmas, and Easter, we rotate back to the same psalms every seven weeks. The opening lines of Psalm 69 are a real attention-getter for many of us. The desperation, the helplessness, the hopelessness of realizing “we’re in too deep, too quickly” are emotions that can’t help but grab our awareness, especially if we feel we are presently living through difficult times or a difficult life event.
Yet, perception is everything, isn’t it? Sometimes when we feel like the water suddenly came out of nowhere, the reality is that it was getting higher and higher a little at a time, and was imperceptible. That was how the Great Flood of 1993 snuck up on us, that fateful spring and summer. I remember my own experience of that.
“Hmmm. We’re getting a lot more rain than usual. Oh well, the water table’s down, we can use it,” I thought, as the rains came down in April and May.
I remember taking an excursion to some of the swollen smaller rivers, with a friend, in May of 1993. We played around on a low water bridge over a creek, feeling the power of the water washing over it, and held on to tree branches as we waded onto the concrete low water bridge, where the water was halfway up to our knees.. “Wow, this could knock you over if you weren’t careful. Hmmm. Don’t think I’ll drive the truck across it, it could be hard to stay on the bridge.” I was 33 and invincible, and there was a secret fun in being a bit of a daredevil.
Within a few weeks, I was stranded on an “island nation”–the flooding of the Des Moines, Mississippi, Missouri, and Grand Rivers was such that everyone in north central Missouri and south central Iowa was stuck there for a few weeks. Even if we didn’t live near water, the grocery shelves started getting a little depleted, and gas stations started running low on fuel. The toll was much higher nearer the rivers–50,000 homes destroyed or damaged, 75 towns under water.
Twenty-five years later, I realize we have a pretty short half-life when it comes to memories of that flood. In many of the areas I remember being completely underwater for weeks to months, I see twice to three times the amount of development that was there in 1993. Yes, we strengthened the levees–but my guess is as those memories fade, so will our ability to perceive future trouble.
The words of Psalm 69, coupled with my memories of the Great Flood of 1993, remind me that God hears us in our sorrow and in our fear. Even when it feels hope is nowhere to be seen, God does not abandon us. God doesn’t punish us for our inability to see the rising waters, nor does God forsake us when we are slow to perceive the warning signs of trouble the next time around. God is in relationship with us when we’re foolish enough to play in the rising floodwaters, and when we find ourselves stranded in them through no fault of our own.
Yet simultaneously, all of us, in our relationship with God through study, prayer, and action, are given opportunities to perceive rising waters in our lives and in world events–and, God willing, chances to do things differently–and in community. One sandbag isn’t much use in a flood, but a wall of sandbags is pretty handy. One little boat can only save a few folks at a time, but an organized flotilla can save many.
If we can let go of fear, anxiety, and the illusion of control, even when the waters are up to our neck, we can begin to perceive the true current that meanders its way through any flood–the current of the waters of our baptism. Even if the outcome is not as we would wish, the current won’t let us go.
When is a time you’ve felt the waters rising? How did the current of the waters of baptism sustain you?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She presently serves as Interim Assistant Priest at two churches, Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, MO, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, MO, as they explore a shared ministry model.