Just When You Though It Was Safe To Go Back in The Water

This post is part of a series reflecting on Groundedthe new book by Diana Butler Bass. Read the other posts in the series here.

So here’s a provocative claim from Grounded: 

As we pay attention to rivers and seas, we might also discover God’s fluid presence with the water.

Swimming off Coronado Beach in San Diego during the summer of 2009, I drifted too far from shore and struggled to make it back in. The tide got a bit nasty. Successive incoming waves tumbled me like a clothes dryer. Each time I surfaced for air, I was facing in a different direction and had to reorient myself to the shoreline. Exhausted, I gave myself over to the waves and let them toss me toward the beach. When my feet implausibly found the bottom and I could stand upright, a lifeguard with a small crowd ran at me with an expression that said, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I didn’t get back in the water that day.

On a youth beach trip in 2012, I punched and head butted Orange County waves with a reckless crew of teenage boys. Then one of those waves picked me up and flung me to the ocean floor, where my elbows and face dug into the sand while my legs and feet followed the wave forward, bending my back to what I was sure was breaking (a Californian later enlightened me that I had been “crabbed”).

I didn’t get back in the water that day either.

Waiting for the return ferry from Santa Cruz Island in 2008, I donned some goggles and a snorkel and putted around the kelp beds next to the dock, marveling at the colorful fish. But I swam straight into the tangled kelp and had to thrash furiously for several seconds to free myself. Luckily no one saw.

God’s fluid presence is with the water.

“Fluid” contains so many things: a weighted pull, a mindless drift, a violent tossing. If God is with the waters, then the waters are not to be entered carelessly.

 

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