The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 38: Holy Water
Well, hi, friends. As I write these words on my front porch today, it has just started to rain, and I hear those fat raindrops plopping on the porch roof and on the green leaves all around me. It is one of my very favorite sounds. And coincidentally, today we are talking all about water; the religious implications of water, lots of water references in the Bible, and the many ways in which we can mindfully interact with water in a way that benefits our spiritual lives.
As a substance, water can be both helpful and harmful. It’s critical for our survival and well-being as animals and humans, but water also can be devastating, as we’ve seen with recent hurricanes like Henri and Ida. In the Old Testament, we see the stories in the Books of Genesis and Exodus all about how God engaged water to create, to save and to destroy.
In the New Testament, we see the baptism of Jesus in water, we hear Him speak of the Holy Spirit as ‘living water’, we see Him stopping storms in an instant and walking on the water, and He promises that those who share even a cup of cold water with someone because they are a disciple will surely not lose their reward. All in all, according to an article from Duke Divinity School that I’ll link for you in today’s show notes, water is referenced 722 times in the Bible. That’s more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship, so it’s pretty clear to see that in God’s economy, and just for us as human people, water is important and something to pay attention to.
Many of my most vivid encounters with God have occurred around water. I remember being on retreat in Vermont when I was nineteen, walking alone on a dirt path between the house where we were staying, and a monastery called Weston Priory. I’ll link that holy place for you, too. Anyway, I felt God in the trickle of a stream that was running alongside me on the path. In my spirit, I felt God say that He has been with me on every part of my journey: my past, present, and future, just as the stream was running alongside me. Now He was calling me to get into the stream with Him in the next part of my life. He was calling me to deeper relationship with Him in that chapter, and He was doing that through water.
Also, I clearly remember the day that I took literally some advice a priest friend gave me to let go of worry and control over a particular situation into the kind hands of God. This was a hard thing for me to do and I needed something I could see and feel to help accomplish it, so I went to the beach. I knelt down tearfully at the water’s edge, it was very dramatic. I filled my hands with wet sand and I let so much more than sand go, along with each wave that came in.
Then there was the day at church when I sang ‘Oceans’ by Hillsong. It had become a pretty regular part of the music rotation since the people in our community really liked that song, but on that day, I heard the words in a new way and realized the truly scary implications of what those bold lyrics were actually inviting God to do in my life.
“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me.”
Wherever You would call me? Oh gosh, just a word of advice here, friend. Be careful what you pray for, because as I look back, that season was rough, and it was also good and holy and hard in all the ways, you know how it goes when we grow.
Well, we can’t have an episode about water and Catholicism without talking about baptism. If you were born and raised Catholic, you might have the idea that baptism is about the cleansing of sin, particularly ‘original sin’, and that’s true, but I hope it doesn’t surprise you to know that baptism is really about death. In the sacrament of baptism, we have images of descent into the water, death, and resurrection. We go under the water, we die to self, and emerge to a new life, a life in Christ. In the Book of Romans, Paul says,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Understanding the water of baptism as a kind of death might change the way we view that sacrament moving forward and hopefully, change the view that we have of our lives as Christians living in this world that is not our home. As Paul said in the Book of Philippians, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” This means that our lives are buried in and with Christ – while we’re here, it is no longer us, but Him living in us, or at least that’s the goal for we professed Christians. And how are we doing with that these days?
Water can also signify a time of trial or suffering, and if you want to hear more about what I call my ‘deep water’ season, you can check out episode 12, which is called ‘Deep Water’. Just a little preview, this hard season – well, it happened after I started singing that ‘Oceans’ song at church, just so you know.
Water can be overwhelming, and it can purify, and it can give life and take it, too. We can bless each other with holy water, as we do at church and as I do with my grown kids when they come to visit. Yes, I am one of those church ladies that has a bottle of holy water in my home, just as my mother was before me, though that came as a bit of a surprise after mocking her as long as I did. Sorry, Mom. As it turns out, I get it. There is something meaningful for me in the physicality of blessing people with water, and maybe there is for you, too.
But the image I want to leave you with today is of God as living water. In the Book of John, we read about the Samaritan woman at the well. In ancient Israel, the daily chore of fetching water was a task that fell to the young women in the family. Water was needed for farming, for the animals, for cooking, drinking, and hygiene, and a well was often at the center of their community life, a gathering place. This is an idea that would be mirrored centuries later by the water coolers so often found in office settings. The early water-gathering was much less fun than that, though maybe retaining the same level of gossip. It was hard work, and when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that there was such a thing as ‘living water’ that would well up in her, she believed she’d never have to make that difficult trek ever again, so she was all in. Jesus was referring here to the Holy Spirit, Who is sealed in us, lives in us, and Who pours out of our hearts like water from a well to minister to those around us. Living water. Do you experience the Holy Spirit in this way in your life? Have you ever found yourself saying or doing something unexpected that was a blessing or benefit to your sister or brother and later thought, “that was not me – that came from God”? Have you felt a push from God to intervene or act or pray in a given moment, and you followed that calling not knowing quite what to expect, and then saw beautiful fruit come from it? Well, that’s living water, friend, flowing in and through you and pouring out into this world that really needs it, helping good things to grow. I love watching that happen. Not one of us can survive without water, both the physical and the spiritual varieties, so let’s pay attention and nurture that living water that’s within us today so that it can flow out, God in us, for one another.
Well, thanks so much for listening today, friend. I have lots of resources for you in the show notes that will help you to engage with this topic in a deeper way, and I hope you’ll check those out, but for now, let’s pray in a little bit of a different way today. I know it might seem a little weird, but as you’ve heard in this episode, I do love a tactile prayer, so if you’re somewhere near water – in your home or if you’re lucky enough to be walking by a lake or the ocean, can you get yourself a bowl of a handful or two of water?
Feel free to hit pause here if you need to, friend, and let us pray:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, we thank you for the gift of water that blesses and purifies, restores, and invigorates, and we pray, too, for those whose physical lives have been compromised or harmed by water in these last days. We thank you for our baptism and for the gift of living water.
Okay friend, put your hands in your water, and I’ll do the same.
Lord, we ask you to enliven the gift of Your Holy Spirit within us and enable us to pour out to our sisters and brothers, friends and enemies, the sick and the needy, in all of the places where You are leading us for restoration of this broken world.
And friend, here let’s think of each place that needs restoration: in you, your family, a friend, a vocation, your church, country, world, anything, really, and mindfully now pour out water, asking the Holy Spirit to move, and I’ll do the same.
Come, Holy Spirit.
Bless you, friend, as the Spirit flows within you today. Bless your dear ones, too, and I’ll see you next time.