I love the ocean! I spend ten days of vacation each August in Ogunquit, Maine, a place that has a stunning three-mile long, white, sandy beach, as well as a mile-long path called the Marginal Way, that runs along craggy rocked shore-line with gorgeous views of the Atlantic ocean. I call this time there my annual ocean fix, which is crucial to my mental and spiritual health and well-being.
Nothing like the ocean restores my weary body and soul. The sea is the Balm of Gilead for me. And like good liturgy, which I also love, the sea touches all five of my senses: the sound of the waves, the briny smell of the spray, the salty taste, the ever-changing colorful seascapes that the sun, moon and stars play upon the ocean’s surface, and – at least in Maine, where the average August water temperature is in the high 50’s – the bracing, invigorating and then numbing effect of the cold water on your skin. The ocean makes me feel alive, because in so many ways the ocean itself is alive. It is living water.
One of the joyful pleasures of on the seashore is walking on the beach and watching young children encounter the ocean – this living water - for the very first time. Have you ever done this? Watched little children at the seashore and discover the water? It’s truly one of life’s pleasures.
Watching little children, somewhere between the ages of one and four years old, encounter the sea for the first time is to remember what joy and wonderment are all about.
Now the ocean can initially be a little intimidating for the uninitiated, especially little kids. Many who are hesitant to get up close are introduced to the sea by an adult picking them up and slowly carrying them into the surf, allowing all their senses to be engaged by the water slowly and safely. Yet many children get this look of trepidation on their faces as the adult moves into deeper waters. They are unsure of what to expect and not sure they want to go any deeper . . . even safely embraced in adult arms.
Then the adult slowly lowers the hesitant child so that a foot gets wet and they feel for the first time that delicious cold salt-water moving on their skin. Or maybe a larger wave breaks and the salt spray covers the child and the adult, inducing a moment of shock on the child’s face, which quickly transforms in to joy and wonder and glee. It’s an aha moment. Before long the child wants to be let down, so that they can run back and forth as the waves ebb and flow on the shore; it’s the as if the child is playing a game of tag with the ocean.
And oh, the shouts of glee and laughter that peal forth from the child as they play in these living waters. It is a joy and wonder to behold. And I have not even mentioned the sand, sea shells, starfish, periwinkles, gulls and crabs, yet!
(At the 10:30 service) (In a few moments) we are going to baptize Fionnan Miquel into the household of God. In the liturgy we will pray one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised him to the new life of
grace. Sustain him, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give him
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and [my absolute favorite phrase] the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”
That’s precisely what little children encountering the sea are doing: expressing “the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.” The magnificence and the beauty of the sea that God has created induces this exuberant expression of joy and awe in them. It’s the same joy and awe when a child first encounters any number of things for the first time: a bug, a fragrant flower, a puppy, a kitten, ice cream! Each brings about one of those aha moments, as the child expresses the gift of joy and wonder in all that God has made.
As we baptize Fionnan Miquel, we celebrate that gift of joy and wonder. That’s our prayer for him today as he encounters the living waters of baptism; that he retains that gift of joy and wonder in his life; even as he grows into adulthood, and the changes and chances of live threaten to wear him down, inducing cynicism and even a loss of hope. That in those moments of despair or hard-heartedness, he will reconnect to the innocence of his childhood and remember that life is full of awe and wonder and that taking delight in God’s gifts can move him from despair to renewed hope. Allowing him to laugh with glee and joy as he revels in the goodness of all God has given us. We need to pray that very same thing for ourselves, as well.
We live in very cynical times; times when the despair quotient seems to exponentially increase daily. When compared against other western nations our nation falls further and further down the happiness scale each year. The number of people who find little happiness in life grows with each depressing, seemingly hopeless, event in our national life. The lack of common decency and civility, the legitimation of hate and violence against people who are not white, straight, supposedly Christian, and wealthy, the growing economic disparities, the reckless behaviors and verbiage that put people’s lives in danger, all these and more add to our lack of hippiness, national despair and a loss of hope. In the book of Proverbs, we are told that where there is no vision the people perish. I would observe when there is no vision, there is no hope, and when there is no hope, people perish. Our current lack of a coherent and healthy vision for the future for us as a people, means we have less and less hope, and therefore we are in danger of perishing.
Fionnan’s baptism today, and the joy and awe that we witness in our children as they encounter the Creation and all of life, are the antidote to our despair and loss of hope. They can heal us, allowing us to live and thrive if we hold them as the great gift from a Creator who loves us; a Creator who wants nothing more than for us to live joyfully as God’s children; as joyfully as children encountering with awe and wonder all the goodness of life.
In our reading from 2 Kings, Naaman the Syrian general who has leprosy, is an object lesson of how we can move from cynicism and a loss of joy in life, to new life that revels in joy and wonder at all that God gives and does for us.
When Naaman is told by the prophet Elisha, to wash in the waters of the Jordan to cure his leprosy, he is not only cynical, he is disdainful. Why bother with such a simple act? Won’t it take a more elaborate process to cure him? After all, he is a general, an important man. He is so wrapped up in himself, he can’t see the gift of God being offered to him.
Wiser minds prevail and convince him to do as the prophet says. And he does so and is healed of his leprosy. We are to told, “[Naaman’s] flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” I believe that his mind and his spirit were also restored to that of a young boy, as well. Because in those living waters of the Jordan river, he rediscovers the joy and wonder of God’s goodness and love for him.
As we call down the Holy Spirit upon the waters of baptism today they will become living waters; the waters of God that heal and bring us new, authentic life in Christ. Like the living ocean waters of Ogunquit that bring such joy to children, these living waters of baptism remind us of our own youthful, less cynical selves and invite us to reclaim the joy and wonder in life that God gives to us. There is immense blessing in that. And in that blessing we can become restorers of hope, joy, awe and wonder of God’s love for us to the world. That is holy work, indeed!