Still waters

Today I write with a group of friends for Spiritual Journey Thursday.

The word restore has been on my mind these days. More or less as a question: When will society, the economy, the country, the health of the globe be restored to pre-COVID-19 conditions? And what will that restoration look like? How changed or different will everything be?

I think on this a lot, as is there is a lot of time to think.

Naturally a well-known line from the Psalms also comes to mind: He restores my soul. It speaks of peace and confidence, of a daily trust. I watch the news, the frenzy of those in the medical profession, pleading on behalf of us all; the government having to count the cost of a shut-down economy as weighed against the life and well-being of its citizens; and everyone worried about having enough resources for coping. They’re all waging a mighty battle against an insatiable, tenacious, invisible pathogen.

While the rest of us watch from a distance, sheltered. Protected. Trusting that the decisions made for us will preserve us, restore us.

We wait in the stillness.

It brings the preceding line of Psalm 23 to mind: He leads me beside still waters.

I could make an analogy of a stormy, violent sea for the government, the medical field, and the stock market, in contrast to the majority of us waiting at home, by the still waters … but a story resurfaced in my memory instead.

Long ago, when I was about seven, I attended a church service where an older girl was baptized. She was perhaps twelve or so, a sweet and affectionate girl well-known and loved by the congregation. It was an exciting morning for the church … except that as this girl entered the baptistry, she was sobbing.

“I can’t do it,” she bawled. ” I can’t …”

Abject terror.

Even as a seven-year-old, I knew she’d chosen to be baptized. She’d walked the aisle some weeks before and professed her faith. I knew the pastor made new members, including children, attend a series of classes to understand the tenets of the faith and the ordnance of baptism. I didn’t understand it all myself, not yet, but I knew this girl, garbed in a white robe, hovering at the steps leading down into the water, crying, wanted to act on her faith. I’d never seen anyone react this way to being baptized: Why’s she so scared?

I look back now and wonder: Was she simply afraid of water? Had she never gone swimming in a pool, as I had?

The water wasn’t deep. It wasn’t cold; it was heated to be comfortably warm. It wasn’t waves crashing on the shore, no dangerous undertow, just clear, still water.

Our pastor, a humble, middle-aged man, a former Navy pilot in WWII and a Bible scholar, stood in his own robe of white at the center of the baptistry. He reached out his hand: “It’s all right, Dear Heart. See, I’m here. It’s safe. You know I’m going to hold onto you.” When she stayed rooted to the steps, clinging to the hidden rail, our pastor waded over, put his arm around her, and led her into the pool.

He held her for a moment. We heard him whisper: “Are you ready?”

Loud sobs, but a nod of her little head.

He raised his hand heavenward:

“I baptize you, little sister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit …”

Whoosh.

She went under and just as quickly, he raised her back up.

“I DID IT!” she shouted, hair plastered to her head, wet face shining. “I DID IT!”

If ever there was a vision of radiant joy, that’s it.

The entire congregation wept, even seven-year-old me.

The tears return even now, remembering.

He leads me beside still waters. Sometimes through still waters. When we cannot see the bottom. When we’d really rather not descend into them, when we don’t want to get wet at all, when we fear not so much immersion but submersion: How long will we be under? Can we last?

He restores my soul. It is a matter of trust that, somehow, all will be well, that we will be raised back up, we will be led safely through.

For now, we wait in the stillness like water lilies … which, in the Tamil poetic tradition, happens to symbolize the grief of separation.

On the placid surface

rest the blooms

in waters still.

Their unseen roots

anchor them

to the earth

far below.

And so we float

suspended

separate

waiting

enduring

this strange baptism

yet anchored

to one another

by unseen roots

while time stands still.

Today, in my mind, in my heart, the word restore echoes over and over and over like a prayer.

Photo: Water lilies on a pond at Powhatan State Park. Virginia State Parks. CC BY

*******

Thank you, Donna for hosting April’s Spiritual Journey Thursday.

12 thoughts on “Still waters

  1. Your words are refreshing and full of a gentle spirit, Fran. I am so glad that you filled our SJT space with love. As I read your post, I thought of one of our priests who always starts his homily with a short vignette, a look into life and then digs deeper into his message. Your words would make a calming speech for a congregation to hear. The child was led to the water by her pastor. I imagine the Lord doing the same to comfort our fears (that are many). There is comfort in knowing that there is someone who supports and lifts us to a new level. Thank you for your spirit of comfort, Fran. Your poem provides an anchor, connected us to you and our unseen faith.

    Like

  2. I was transported to those waters, nervous and scared, then comforted by your poem that beautifully comforts. Restore is a word we will find in the days and weeks ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s something about the 23rd psalm that just gets me. Every time. What a powerful moment – for you AND for her. It’s amazing to me how many religions use immersion as a form of ritual cleaning. There really is something to it.

    “enduring / this strange baptism / yet anchored / to one another” – yes. We all wait, unsure, knowing we will emerge once again – but not quite yet knowing when, or what type of transformation we will undergo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Psalm has really been near of late. Several of them have … I have been wanting to write that baptism story for a while and suddenly it came to the surface today. How fitting. Then I realized the water lily symbolism (different religion, but-) means grief of separation, after I’d already chosen it as a visual for “still water”. This is why I love to write. It teaches me, opens me up … sometimes to messages I might otherwise miss. And I feel confident of being restored, just not when or how. I hope soon, for all
      the people out of work … and that all will be stronger than before. Thank you, kindred spirit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love how you wove together memories, prose, poetry, an image, and scripture – all of them intricately connected. Beautiful. I am “Finding Poetry” this month and this gives me the idea to look at the Bible for a text. Thank you for sharing this memory with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for this reflection today. Still waters. And Psalm 23. And restoration. So many words to ponder and so much to try and understand. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Now is the time for us to trust Him.

    Liked by 1 person

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