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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

God is Troubling the Waters | September 5, 2021 by Dr. Kathryn Benton

This is the great disclosure:

that there is at the heart of life a Heart.

When such an insight is possessed by the human spirit

and possesses the human spirit, a vast and awe-inspiring

tranquility irradiates life.

This is the message of the spiritual.

Do not shrink from moving confidently out into choppy seas.

Wade in the water, because God is troubling the water.

Wade in the Water…Howard Thurman illuminates the spiritual, Wade in the Water by saying that God lurks within the “trouble” of our lives. Although there is heartache and pain…although we must suffer from sometimes unimaginable difficulties, God is there…there is a Heart…a presence…a guide within the “troubling”. This all-pervading presence is troubling the waters of life.

There has been a lot of “trouble” lately…from war and oppression, to storms and floods, to smoke and fires, pandemics of the bodies and of the mind. Our spirits are “troubled” on a very personal level…a visceral level…at the level of basic life necessities: water, air, food…but also connection and love, warmth and compassion. We have been busy building a wall between the human being and the “outer” world of nature…wind, rain, fire, heat and cold, animals and plants and it is this wall that has caused this schism…this disconnection from our bodies on the one hand and the other bodies with whom we share this brink of time. Howard Thurman spoke to this disconnection…this illusion:

Man is a child of nature; he is rooted and grounded in the earth. He belongs to it, and it belongs to him…Man cannot long separate himself from nature without withering as a cut rose in a vase. One of the deceptive aspects of mind in man is to give him the illusion of being distinct from and over against but not a part of nature. It is but a single leap thus to regard nature as being so completely other than himself that he may exploit it, plunder it, and rape it with impunity.

We are indeed children of nature…rooted and grounded in the earth. Even if we do not spend a lot of time outside in nature, we are nonetheless connected by the air, the water, the food…by the mother, the father, the brothers and sisters, the cousins and aunts and uncles, the children. Our connection to nature has been made more obvious by the recent climate events. Because we have exploited, plundered, and raped our earth…because we have fouled our own nest, we are experiencing the repercussions. The system may be at its breaking point. This is a sobering realization but very difficult to take in as is described by Thich Nhat Hanh in the following passage:

I remember listening one day to a seminar on South Africa and seeing some movies played of the atrocities and sufferings there. I remember being overwhelmed by sadness at one point. The member of the seminar asked me what I thought could be done. And I said I thought that nothing could be done. They seemed quite startled and asked why. I said, “Everyone is distressed by the films we’ve seen here, and everyone is discussing heatedly what action can be taken – whether nonviolent or violent. But tomorrow everyone will be preoccupied by his own life and cares, and his distress will vanish.” If I had said we could do something, I might have left the people there at peace. But I felt that what was needed was a good shock.

Yes, we are often in need of a “good shock” to our systems. We are preoccupied with our own life and cares. If we are not shocked, we do not respond. And we have to sit with the sadness and the distress for a while in order to truly take it in. But as luck would have it we can do this in conjunction with the healing, transforming waters…the actual waters and the waters of compassion we may have for each other. Nina Simone sings of this water…

The symbol of the water is powerful. Turbulent, calm, blue, green…tears, sweat, blood…whatever form it takes…it is a substance that cannot be isolated…cannot be separated out. It is one…one whole, one awareness. Each droplet of water is aware of each other drop of water and is ready to merge with it, given the chance. Water can merge and destroy, create and heal…it is blood, sweat and tears, as well as the carrier of our waste products. And God is troubling the water…God is in and around this substance from which we have our birth…our life. We are being called to the work of healing and of the righting of the wrongs on this Labor Day…called to allow and enable “justice to roll down as water, and righteousness as a mighty stream”. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted that passage when he spoke of the nature of our work together…our work in social justice…in healing the earth and our spirits. And Dr. King was convinced that this work could and should be done through the power of nonviolence, for:

…the nonviolent approach does something to the hearts

and souls of those committed to it.

It gives them new self-respect.

It calls up resources of strength and courage

that they did not know they had.

Finally, it so stirs the conscience of the opponent

that reconciliation becomes a reality.

Those resources of strength and courage are not new to the human species. We have so many examples from the history of the struggle…the struggle for justice and of peace…of healing, reconciliation and repair. We have only to listen to the voice of Paul Robeson, singing about the activist/songwriter Joe Hill to be inspired:

The dream that Joe Hill is still alive…standing in front of us is a powerful metaphor. It means that the spirit of rebellion and of transformation…the spirit of a person like Joe Hill has not died, but has “gone on to organize”…to organize the coming together of all people and to provide the resources…that well of courage and strength needed for the struggle…the struggle not only for social justice and human dignity, but of environmental restoration…for our own sakes.

So let’s go to the water for lessons on how to merge, to heal and to create a restored reality…a place that resembles the original blessing of creation…complete with the healing waters, fresh air and our companions the plants and animals. We have the resources to do this, if we listen carefully for the sound of those who have come before, those who travel this way with us and those who are yet to come. I am reminded of the story by Olive Schreiner describing “A Track to the Water’s Edge”. She wrote:

And she listened intently, and she said, “I hear a sound of feet, a thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, and they beat this way!”

He said, “They are the feet of those that shall follow you. Lead on! Make a track to the water’s edge! Where you stand now, the ground will be beaten flat by ten thousand times ten thousand feet.”

It is this track being made…this path being worn to the water’s edge that may be all we can do in our short lifetime to further the cause of reconciliation and restoration that is needed. When we act alone, it is not enough, but taken together…in community, it can be the most important work that we do. If we move with confidence into the choppy seas, and if we bring the necessary dedication and passion, it is there that we find the all-pervading presence of the Holy…our refuge and our inspiration…our strength and our courage. It is there that we learn the lessons of life, guiding us to our sacred purpose. Lead on!

Come to me, all of you, all of yourselves, in your frenzied weariness,

your movement without end, your action without purpose,

not caring in your fatigue whether you live or die.

Come enmeshed by what you carry, the cargo taken on by your soul,

the burdens you thought you desired, which have constantly swollen

and now are exhausting you.

Come like lovers to your first tryst. I will give you peace and renewal

after constant stress: Your pendulum can pause between here and there,

between being and non-being.

- Neil Douglas-Klotz

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