From the melting snow and ice on our peaks, to the lakes that lie in their shadows, to the streams flowing through the valley, to the rain that has been falling this week, Jackson Hole is blessed with an abundance of water. The Thanksgiving Over the Water in our Baptismal liturgy beautifully sums up the ways in which the faithful have recognized expressions of the inexhaustible grace of the Creator in the outward sign of water:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, pp 306-307)
Those of us who reside in places where there is plenty of water often take it for granted. Sometimes, we even find it to be an inconvenience. However, when we experience a drought, it is an entirely different matter. A drought is a temporary experience. Eventually the rains and snows come again and we return to our kind of “normal.” For people who live in arid regions of the world, "normal" is a perennial shortage of water. Water is seldom taken for granted and is regarded as a blessing from above. The land of the Bible is such a place. Perhaps that is why the Bible so often uses water as a metaphor of God's bountiful providence and blessing.
One very interesting example is found in Psalm 65:9.
You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous;
the river of God is full of water.
In English, we have many words for flowing water - river, stream, brook, creek. In Hebrew, there are also several words. The Hebrew word for river is: nahar. Nahar refers to a body of constantly flowing water, few of which are found in the Middle East. Even in drought, when water levels may become a trickle, a river never ceases to flow. But the word translated "river" in Psalm 65:9 is not nahar, but peleg, which means a stream, channel, or rivulet. A peleg is the kind of stream that doesn't get mapped because it is not always there; it's seasonal. In the Holy Land, a river - nahar - is something large, permanent, and usually far away. A peleg is local and nearby. A peleg means sudden life in the midst of drought.
Peleg is what God is - local, present, in our midst, not somewhere else to which we must go, but right here in our desert, in our present need. God is new life, rushing into our dry brittle need. And God is full. “The river of God is full of water.” God is not seasonal. Unlike all the other streams that flow, then stop, and everything becomes dry again, God's stream is always full of water. Our world and our lives may be seasonal but God is eternal, reliable, and always full.
I know that it is sometimes very difficult for those who are in the midst of a “dry spell” to feel the abundant waters of God. We may be a dry, cracked creek bed, thirsty and waiting. But God is a river that is always full of water. We may be struggling to make ends meet, but we know there is abundance. Life takes on new meaning when we can face each day with a theology of abundance, eyes wide open to see God's hand a work in the world around us.
Psalm 65 proclaims to us that God is always full, regardless of our feelings, regardless of our season. God is abundant. God has everything that we need and more. It is God's desire to pour out life in abundance. God sent Jesus to be the living embodiment of that abundant life.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13, 14). Jesus used the temporal, tangible sign of water from a well as an instrument to lift the woman's vision to perceive the gift of eternal life that satisfies far more than physical thirst.
These bodies of water in our valley and the Baptismal Font, which we see coming and going from worship, provide us with the sign of God as a living stream, full, bringing life in the midst of a desert. And, through the stewardship of lives that are washed, refreshed, and buoyed up by God's abundant blessings, this is what we are to be, bringing blessing and life to those around us.
I’ll see you in Church,