A few weeks ago, the city of Columbia suffered a break in the water line near my house. Midday Thursday, a city employee left a notice on our doorknob that all water out of our faucets meant for drinking or cleaning should be boiled vigorously for at least a minute before use due to possible bacterial contamination.
For the next two days, I didn’t shower.
I pulled out my stockpot and dutifully boiled 8 quarts. I called my husband and begged him to see what water was left at the grocery store on the way home. He came back armed with cases of La Croix and jugs of Deer Park. It seemed we might just make it through the hardship.
Saturday morning, by the time I’d returned from my walk, another note hung on the doorknob — this time blue, instead of red; the water was potable again. I heaved a sigh of relief and gathered up the mixing bowls full of water that I’d put in sink basins for washing my hands. As I loaded the dishwasher to take advantage of the first safe water to pass through the pipes in days, I saw myself: my life had been formed around the city of Columbia’s boil water advisory much more in the past three days than it had been measurably affected by God’s presence.
My mind had been constantly flipping through recipes that produced few dishes and required little washing of ingredients. Rather than going on runs or working in the yard, I conserved my cleanliness by choosing neater chores. Every time I entered the bathroom or kitchen, I was jarred again to remember the advisory under which I lived and moved and had my being. I couldn’t affirm that I thought of God that often in my daily life, let alone allowed my relationship with God to determine my diet and activities.
Though there’s something to be said for the sort of comfortable expectation and trust that develops in a long relationship — whether with God or with a spouse or friend — being without water for those three days had changed the way that I lived. I wondered whether God being with me had changed the way I live to nearly as great a degree.
In Exodus 17, the Israelites come to Moses dehydrated. No longer able to take food and water for granted, the freed Hebrew people are forced to confront their trust issues. No longer under the thumb of Pharaoh, the freedom of following their God into the wilderness overcomes them, and they threaten mutiny. “We don’t know where we’re going!” they protest; “We’re going to starve!” they screech. Then they decide Moses should be the one to do something about their thirst — as if Moses had control over the geography. Remembering that God will provide for our needs is no easier now than it was then.
I did many nonsensical things during my Triduum without water — if someone had seen my home and behavior not knowing of the danger in the water, they surely would have thought I was insane. Without the vital piece of information that the water pipes were compromised, my actions made no sense at all. Are we so immersed in our relationship with God that our lives look insane without God in the picture?
Presented as a statement, Cardinal Suhard said it well: “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
As I wrote recently on my own blog, growth and transformation always takes time. Living into the trust that God provides for us moves at a slow pace and takes practice. Recently, my parish established the habit of offering daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and I find that praying the Collect for Guidance reminds us that God is as vital, engulfing, and affecting as water, as well as spurring us to life offered as a reflection of God.
“Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The image above is “A nice place on the River Sile” (2009) by the Flickr user efilpera. It is licensed under Creative Commons.