The two-fold nature of water

A response to the flood story in Genesis chapter 7 and 8, written for the 2020 Easter Vigil service held by the Episcopal Church at Cornell.

During the warm summer months, I swim in Cayuga Lake. A loose association of swimmers with the acronym COWS (Cayuga Outdoor Water Swimmers) meets several mornings a week on the east shore. We put on neoprene wet suits, caps, and goggles and wade into the water. Standard start time is 6 a.m. The standard out and back route along the shore is about a mile.

I love swimming in the lake, and it scares me.

That lake is a powerful thing. It’s wide, it’s long, it’s deep. It’s cold. Even with the rising sun shining on it, the water is dark and you can’t see more than a few inches in front of your face. You often feel an obstacle before you see it. You only hear your own breathing. We swim in a pack, but the pack gets spread out, and the former lifeguard in me worries about everyone else—although most of the other swimmers are more experienced than I am.

“It’s really hard to drown in a wetsuit,” the leader joked to me last year. This is funny—those wet suits are pretty buoyant—but her comment reminded me that the water that holds me up, allowing me to essentially fly as a human, could also kill me.

Swimming in the lake and the Flood passage both remind me of the two-fold nature of water. The same substance that burst forth from the great deep also flowed through the humans and animals “in which there was the breath of life” shut in the ark. The rains that blotted out every living thing God had made from the face of the ground held the ark securely and moved it forward.

“The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.”

Noah trusted God. That’s what allowed him to float through this disaster.

I trust the water when I’m swimming. That’s what allows me to stay up and breath.

When I teach someone how to swim, the first lesson is to learn trust—that both you and the water can work together, that your body in the right position will float. I often remind myself of this first lesson by floating on my back in the lake and looking up at the sky. It’s a demonstration of trust. It also reminds me of the feeling of letting God love me: accept me, forgive me, direct my path, hold this world. Even when my life or this world seem like they are about to give way.

I think water is an apt metaphor for love, which is both powerful and nourishing. We depend on its strength to move and shape this world, and we need its tenderness to sustain us. God loves us. God, through Christ, achieved a powerful thing—the powerful thing—defeating death in the name of love. God also, through Christ, sustains us in love every day. This is what we are waiting for in hope during the Easter Vigil.