The people who have become ill with MS or any kind of disease have had the normal story of their lives interrupted, and perhaps changed. When a person who has one story ‘I am a mother, and I am bringing up children or caring for grandchildren’ gets ill, then that story is interrupted. Now they are sick. What story do they tell about those events? Some people say “I am a person who is ‘battling’ with MS. A battle has a beginning and an outcome too (like a swim). The person with MS or any illness is like the person in the water. They do not know the outcome of the story, or what story they are in exactly. That is the meaning of ‘being in the water’
I have been thinking some more about the swim across the lake that was undertaken by Frits Baaker and Rita on 8th September. I asked myself the question “Would it make any difference if the swimmers just went out into the middle of the lake, got into the water and swam for 13 km and got out again?” I think so. Why is this?
What comes to me is an awareness of some differences in the process.
First of all, there is a sense of ‘beginning and end’ based upon the difference between ‘on land’ and ‘not on land’ The swimmers go out from the land into the water, and then return to the land. This idea then is about having a visible and measurable goal. If life had no meaning, and was just one thing after another then the stream of life that we are in would be just like getting into the water from a boat and swimming 13 km and getting out. But the idea of going from ‘shore to shore’ implies a goal: going from land to land.
St. Aiden converted the king of Northumbria with a similar idea. He was talking to him, and a sparrow flew into the banqueting hall. The king said ‘The sparrow comes in to the hall, from we don’t know where and flies out to we don’t know where. We only see it for the brief time that it is in the hall. Life is like that. Where we come from and where we are going is a mystery. We only see our brief span here. Does Christianity have anything to say about that? St. Aiden explained that we come from God, and are going to God.
This means that as human beings, because we in the West see time as a straight line, we like to have small ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’ that give meaning to stretches of time and activity that are bounded by these ‘bookends’ of the ‘land -water -land’ triplet.
The other thing that happens is that for the time we are in the water, the story of our lives is about the journey of going from land, through water, to land. This means that we actually have a story to tell. This is also important. Having a story to tell about them, is what gives meaning to events. This is why it is important to connect some sicknesses to this kind of swimming event. The people who have become ill with MS or any kind of disease have had the normal story of their lives interrupted, and perhaps changed. When a person who has one story ‘I am a mother, and I am bringing up children or caring for grandchildren’ gets ill, then that story is interrupted. Now they are sick. What story do they tell about those events? Some people say “I am a person who is ‘battling’ with MS. A battle has a beginning and an outcome too (like a swim). The person with MS or any illness is like the person in the water. They do not know the outcome of the story, or what story they are in exactly. That is the meaning of ‘being in the water’
The people of Israel also had questions about the meaning of their story. They had prophets who told them ‘This is the meaning of your life. The people have been unfaithful to God. You are being punished. But God will be faithful if you repent.’ But sometimes they said ‘There is not one prophet left, there is no one who knows how long these things shall be’ Knowing the length of time a thing shall be is a way of coping with difficult situations.
So that is the first good reason for getting into the water from land, and going to land.
The second thing that comes to me is that the getting into the water from land is a genuine ‘going out’. In comparison with just ‘swimming’ Unconsciously we do this with music too. A piece of music like the verse of a hymn starts, then ‘goes away’ from the beginning note, and then ‘comes back’ to the place where we were.
This ‘going out’ means risk. Interestingly enough the anthropologists talk about this process of ‘putting something at stake, or taking a risk’ as a ‘liminal’ state. This comes from the Greek word ‘limnos’ a lake!! So it is fitting that when a person ‘goes out’ and makes a project for a particular purpose, before they are at their goal, they are in a ‘state of being in the lake’!
I have written before about this, but it is worth repeating here. Every football game is a kind of artificial ‘liminal state’ because we create a beginning, contest, and end out of the game. But the Eucharist is a similar kind of event. When we ring the bell to begin the process, we begin a journey of the soul where the process that is up for grabs is ‘Will we hear God’s Word, understand where we are before God and allow ourselves to be healed or forgiven? Will we have ‘communion with God?’ The alternative, which makes a mockery out of coming to church, or makes it boring is that we resist. The Bible talks of people being ‘stiff necked’ or the prophet Ezekiel says ‘Whether or not they listen, they will know that there is a prophet among them.’ We do not open ourselves to God. This is also possible. But the Eucharist is designed to be like getting into the lake and heading for the other side.
The last thing that is worth saying about this process of ‘getting into the water’ is that the swim is exactly like a baptism. In the process of being baptized, or renewing our baptismal vows, we step away from our old lives and ‘undress ourselves’ psychically, and plunge (baptizo in the verb ‘to plunge’) into the water. There is some risk that we will not come out the other side. Then we ‘put on’ Christ and live a new life.
The period of time between stepping into the water, and coming out the other side in the sacrament of baptism is exactly like swimming the ‘lake’. In baptism we risk something. That is why we talk about the Eucharist as being the repeatable part of our Baptism. Being baptized means once in a lifetime having our ‘being’ connected to Christ’s ‘being’. We repeat this process and ‘re-connect’ with Christ in ‘communion’ with him in the Eucharist.
This is the largest story it is possible to tell. When the normal story of our lives is disrupted by illness or disease or events, then we are plunged again into the lake of uncertainty. But because we have been baptized, we can say one thing for sure, whose truth is guaranteed by God ‘My life is hid with Christ in God.’