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Deep Water

A competent pool swimmer, I had no trepidation about swimming alone. I trusted the water to keep me afloat. Until one day. As I slid into the shallow end of our pool, the clear water cooled my hot skin. Brilliant sunlight illuminated the chlorinated water. Gentle ripples dispersed the primary blue of the reflected sky into variegated blues and greens. The leisurely movement of my body scattered the light, creating a watery blue collage. I felt as if I were making art with nature. Muscles stretched, I glided into the deep to float freely on the surface, face down, legs and arms loosely extended. This was the perfect pose for contemplating the kaleidoscope of color and light below me. Inhaling a lungful of air, I dove deeper, folding my body into a ball, the water suspending me in a cocoon, soothed by the mesmerizing underwater sights and muted sounds. Does the human embryonic development, suspended in fluid, imprint on the human psyche? Is that why, like many people, I love water?

On the pivotal day, as I swam the 8-foot deep water, a sharp pain in my left foot forced it to fold in on itself. The spasm continued up my calf, bending the knee at an awkward angle. No amount of effort would straighten it nor relieve the agony. The adipose tissue (nice way of saying fat) of my body, normally enough to keep me afloat, could not compensate for the pull of my muscles. This is why people drown with cramps, I thought. Working through the excruciating pain, I splashed to the edge and used my arms to crawl the rim to the shallow depth where I could push my feet against the concrete, forcing the muscles to relax. I no longer swim in the deep alone. My sanctuary was destroyed.

A Lenten meditation, taken from Luke 5:1-11, kindled this memory. The passage relates Simon Peter and Andrew ferrying Jesus in their boat away from shore so that he could preach to the crowds on land. Afterward, Jesus convinces them to go into deep water. Contrary to Simon’s expectation, the catch is enormous, threatening to tear the nets and likely capsize the boats. Other fishermen pitch in to help save the catch as well as to save the men. Safely ashore, Simon and his friends bow to Jesus in astonishment.

Deep water is risky, as anyone who has experienced its covert strength can attest. I learned a lesson on Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the U.S. with a depth of 75’. My family and I stayed at a cabin in one of the many coves off the main reservoir. The cove itself was as large as any of the lakes we vacationed at in Minnesota when I was a child. One afternoon when the lake was calm, my husband took my mother and me out in a small motorboat to explore the main reservoir. My mother, who had never learned to swim well, wore her life vest. I held mine next to me. We had enjoyed a peaceful cruise to the far side of the reservoir and were admiring the forest lining the beach when the boat suddenly jerked sideways, tilting the rim to meet the water. It felt as if an arm had reached up from the depths below to pull us over. I threw my body in the opposite direction to prevent capsizing when the boat righted itself, returning to its quiet float. Shaken, I donned my life vest, and we hastily but cautiously returned to the safety of our dock.

Although my childhood home was at the top of a large bluff, it was only a mile from a wide reach of the Mississippi River. We rarely swam in the river. Besides the pollution from local industry, fear of undertows that could pull you under silently and powerfully had been instilled in our minds. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed being on the water, whether river, lake, or ocean. The gentle lapping of water against a boat or ground is ideal incidental music for meditation. The rhythm of waves crashing on rock is mesmerizing. When relaxing in my happy place, I am transported to yoga on the beach in San Diego, sand warming my towel, the rhythm of the waves rocking me.

The book of Genesis in the Holy Bible explains planet Earth was created when God for land to divide the waters. Even now, water covers more of our planet than does terrain. Massive aquatic bodies inspire a sense of the eternal. Unable to see the far shore or the floor of the ocean, I am reminded that I cannot view into the future, nor understand the length of my life. Staring into the depths, I ponder below me a dynamic kingdom filling the watery universe, most of which has never been explored by humans. That I can never be part of that kingdom humbles me. As I relax in the pool, I am in awe of an element that is life-sustaining and appears harmless but is also life-threatening, an element that humans cannot control completely. The original question presented four options. Actually, deep water is all of those things: risky, holy, challenging, and awe-inspiring, a Venn diagram of the divine.  

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