“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” -Exodus 14:14
There is something so comforting about the feeling of warm water. I revel in it every time I absentmindedly wash another dish or hop into the shower. The latter, especially, has become a type of mini-retreat for me. I turn the water to just under scalding and sneak away after my children’s bedtime for what has become a time of personal prayer. Here, there are no diapers to change, no sibling qualms to suppress, no crumbs to pick up, no stains to spray. There is only me, the water, and God.
Sometimes, I choose to put on some favorite songs or hymns. Other times, an insightful podcast will do. But most of the time, I just crave the silence that cascades all around me, washing the ups and the downs, the moments of peace and frustration, away.
It’s not haphazardly that the Church uses water in the sacrament of Baptism. And it’s not coincidental how soothing and renewing a warm bath or shower can be. From the beginning of time, God has used water to make things new.
In the story of Creation, his spirit hovers above the waters and creates order and beauty out of chaos. In the story of Noah, he cleanses the earth of sin through water and creates the world anew—giving humanity a fresh start. In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites pass through the water of the Red Sea from slavery into freedom. And at the Cross, Christ pours out blood and water from his side to give birth to the Church and open the doors of salvation.
It is for these reasons that water is so significant in the sacrament of Baptism. Throughout salvation history, God has used water to create order out of chaos, cleanse us of our sin, lead us from spiritual slavery to freedom, and incorporate us into the Church as his sons and daughters. Baptism does all of these things. It is the first sacrament of initiation and the most life-changing event we will ever encounter—more life-changing even than our birthdays, wedding day, ordination day, or the day we may become parents. The other sacraments, life-changing and beautiful as they are, cannot occur without us first being baptized. As the Catechism explains, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (1213). Furthermore, Baptism fundamentally changes our identity. St. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:22-24 that in Baptism we “put away the old self of your former way of life…and put on* the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
A few weeks ago, as we entered into the second week of Ordinary Time, we heard another story with water: the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana. In this case, God takes water, an ordinary, natural element, and changes it into something new. Where there was lack, he created abundance.
He continues to do this today -- a thought that gives me hope during trying times. After a week of illness in our immediate family, the loss of an extended family member, elevated sibling rivalry, communication breakdowns, a close friend in the hospital, general isolation, and a stolen credit card (for good measure), I find myself in the bathtub once more—slowly breathing, closing my eyes, and praying: make me new. With ragged emotions, a fried brain, and a heavy heart, I whisper, “Lord, I have nothing to give.”
Like the jars of wine at Cana, I am empty.
How fortunate for us that this is the area of God’s specialty: our weakness. Only weeks ago at Christmas we marveled at this in a special way as God physically entered into our frailty in the frailest of forms—as an infant. Now we hear about this God-man beginning his ministry by providing an extravagant amount of wine at a wedding.
God doesn’t skimp.
And as I breathe in and out slowly in the water, I remember the truth of who God is and what he has done. He can take my chaos and make order and beauty. He can take my slavery to sin and my ego and free me to love. He has incorporated me into his family. And every time I choose to participate in the sacraments and live out my baptismal identity, he makes me new by filling me with his grace.
If you, too, are feeling tired, sick, overwhelmed, or stressed, I invite you to remember in prayer,
“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”