Joan A. Wingert
Director of Music and Liturgy
Bethel Lutheran Church (ELCA)
While many of us reveled in a mild winter with little precipitation, that joy soon gave way to concern for the low water tables. Too much or too little. It seems it’s always feast or famine, flood or drought. That’s why water is a symbol of both life and death. Necessary for life, for health and for comfortable living, too much or too little water can have devastating consequences. This life-and-death quality of water is one of the reasons it is used in baptism.
In arid lands, it’s easy to see where the water sources are. Unexpected but oh-so-welcome “green” in the midst of drylands announce the life-giving and growth-producing presence of water. All living beings — people, animals, water creatures — come to the water and are refreshed and strengthened. In years of even more severe drought, the devastating effects are immediate, and there are few — if any — options for those who depend on that water for life.
In water-rich places like Minnesota, it carries additional meanings. The very name, “Minnesota” (Sioux for “sky-blue water”) celebrates one of our chief resources: lakes, rivers and streams; rain, snow and ice. Living in such close proximity to all this abundance enables us to experience it in ways other than simple water-presence or water-absence. We have fishing opener and ice sculpture contests; we have storm warnings and soil moisture readings. We know and count on seasons of growth and abundance and seasons of rest and replenishment.
We also know water’s devastation, from the annual spring-thaw floods in the Red River Valley to ships sinking in Lake Superior to crops wiped out by hail and storm to — you name it.
In Psalm 1, we read: “Those who delight in the law of the Lord are like trees planted by streams of water.” A beautiful image, no question, and we identify with how comforting and assuring a steady source of water is for the tree. But it is not without risk: Streams can go out of their banks or dry up or become polluted. Living too near water may encourage shallow roots that will not hold the tree up in times of storm or sustain it in times of drought.
Like that tree, those who delight in the law of the Lord are not guaranteed an easy life. We are expected to grow strong but not complacent. We are expected to put down roots that grow deep and wise rather than merely staying at surface level. We are expected to take all the gifts offered by the great gift of living water and give back to God and the world 100-, 1,000-, 100,000-fold. For, you see, it isn’t just about “us.” It’s about “all” of us.
We need to learn how to be water-wise:
• To seek and learn to dig deep in faith when the days are dry and God seems to be distant or hiding from us;
• To stretch and not despair when what previously came easily now must be obtained through struggle and innovation;
• To not be overcome and lose ourselves when riches are heaped upon us, but to instead cultivate a generous and thankful spirit; and
• To know that, whether we are living through arid times, flood times or just-right times, God’s love is always constant and attentive to us — “all” of us. Therefore, our wisdom must include to not judge others in their times of drought or flood.
That’s part of delighting in God’s law, too, for “the rain falls on the just and unjust alike” (Mt. 5:45). Abundance is no sure sign of blessing and scarcity is no sure sign of disfavor. All of us are God’s children, whether we delight in God’s law or not. But the “taste of rain” can help us to seek God’s life-giving “stream.”
Seasons of drought, flood and just-right can strengthen our roots — if we only let them.