I’ve been thinking about water over recent days.
The epic poem with which the Bible opens speaks of God drawing the conditions for life out of chaos. Three bio-spheres are established—sea and land and sky—within which, every element, every possible form of life, can find its place.
But what of water? Water is found in the seas. But it also falls from the skies. And permeates through the rocks of the earth. Water expresses itself as liquid and gas and solid. It rises from the oceans salty, and falls on the plains fresh. Water bubbles up in springs and gathers in lakes and roars in waterfalls and mighty rivers. It blurs the edges of distinct bio-spheres in mangroves and marshes and swamps. Water cleaves together tightly, refusing to be separated—without excessive violence against its being—in the earth’s ice caps and glaciers, for thousands of years of fidelity. Water makes up some 70% of human beings, the creatures drawn (and there is irony here) from the clay of the earth. It leaks from us in tears, and sweat. And, provoked by those who dwell in houses of clay, water can be unleashed in powerfully destructive ways, as we have seen, yet again, in recent days.
In what expression is water true to the divine imagination? Surely in all of her expressions.
And what of human beings, those who dwell in houses of clay? According to that epic poem, the same divine imagination that gave purpose to water appointed human beings to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Where, in the context of God’s work, subdue must mean, resist chaos and create the conditions that allow life to flourish—primarily, in context, through migration and agriculture.
To multiply requires fertile males and females; but that does not mean that infertile couples, and no-longer fertile couples, and gay couples, and single people live outside of God’s imagination for humanity. It simply means that not every given human being fulfils every aspect of a true humanity in the same way. There is far more to being a community that experiences fruitful lives than procreation.
Moreover, a humanity that is true to the divine imagination must involve migration. Not conquering other people groups by colonisation, not overwhelming others like a flood, but nonetheless the continual movement of people groups, like ever-shifting water-courses refreshing the tired land. Again, in that ancient text of Genesis, we see God push the overly-settled out: of Eden, from Babel, from Ur. We do not possess the land we live on, but share a common oversight of the whole Earth.
Whether we read poetry too narrowly, or define anthropology too narrowly on any other basis, we are likely to fall short of the blessing God intends for creation. We are likely to exchange friendship with God for being like God: like God, whose friends turned away.
Psalm 42 speaks of water, both as the life-giving streams that flow in the wilderness places frequented by deer and through our own internal dry places, and as the breakers and waves of a cosmic deep that somehow is also experienced within the psalmist’s own body. Perhaps if we are to learn how to be more fully human, we need to listen to the waters around us, and within us.