I did something today I never thought I'd ever do. I registered for my first 5k, a race I'll run this Saturday. Those of you who know me, know me as a chubby (a polite word for fat) man. I always have been. And while I am taking it off, I will likely always be somewhat chunky.
But somehow, in the past couple of years, I have become more aware of the importance of exercise. So when a student introduced me to the couch to 5k program last spring, I started doing something I never thought I would, actually trying to run. Well, "running" is a kind word for what I do, more like slow jogging. Still, as I have increased distance and time, I have come to realize how important it is to drink water, both before and after my exercise. Since I have also been more thirsty than usual, I notice water everywhere. My students, many of whom are athletes, carry water bottles with them. Water is an essential for us. But it also has destructive power. This is clearly illustrated by the recent flooding in the Northeast, the Tsunami in Japan. As a fundamental element, water is both a destructive force, yet also a source of life and vitality.
This leads me to reflect on the importance of water in the biblical narratives. Why, for Christians, is baptism such an elemental symbol? I think it is because, the water of baptism is a narrative symbol of both God's provident creative energy, as well as the destructive power of chaos. Consider the first creation account in Genesis 1. There we find a God whose prime activity is dividing the waters, placing the dome in the midst of the waters to separate the waters of heaven, from the waters below, dividing the waters below by placing the earth in its midst, and so forth. In the ancient cosmology of the priestly creation account, waters are above the sky and below and surrounding the earth. These waters, the abode of the leviathan, are also those that feed the wellsprings of life, and provide the crops rain from above. Or consider the Noah account, the deluge has both a destructive and purifying power. One could also consider the story of Moses being pulled from the Nile, an echo of salvation of the Noah story. In a sense, the parting of the Red Sea, and in the next generation, the crossing of the Jordan are also improvisations on this theme. Again God shows God's creative power by pushing back the waters to create a new people, letting them collapse again upon the forces of chaos and destruction that pursue.
When I remember my own baptism, I'm certain I was not aware of the powerful symbolic dimension of that profound act, as I am today. So, now, maybe its time to seek out a new baptism, stretch my legs a little and be rewarded with an ice cold cup of water after I cross that finish line!