“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you mine. When you pass through the deep waters, I will be with you…” (Isaiah 43:1-2a)
As a young boy my family lived near Hobby airport. Dad was the pastor at Glenbrook UMC. On occasion we would take a family outing to Galveston. As best as I can remember, I was still in grade school when we took this summer-day excursion to Galveston Island.
Apparently, there had been some form of warning, that day about, “undertow.” I had no idea what that meant. In light of this;as my younger brother and I were frolicking in knee-deep waves; we turned our heads to hear our mother crying out: “Bryant, come back! You’re getting out too far into the deep waters!” John and I looked out into the deep; and saw nothing but churning of the waters. Frothy foam and a remnant of a hand just above the tides and then gone, only to return and then disappear again.
I’ve never forgotten that distant childhood memory. Stuck in shallow waters with our father in shoulder-deep waters with an occasional frantic hand bobbing, and then beneath angry cusps of waves spinning erratically out of control, no sign of our protector, parent, provider, father who was never supposed to become vulnerable in our naïve too young to know eyes.
Israel knew about deep waters and so do we. We know all about undertow, even when it’s on dry land some many feet above sea level. We all seem to be in some form of viral undertow. One minute we are shaking hands, exchanging hugs, buying popcorn at the local cinema, visiting our favorite Friday night haunt where we always seem to order the same thing on the menu. Sitting in the same pew at our local houses of worship, or as pastors who stand behind a pulpit or out in front of Tom, Dick, and Harry, and Mary. Now we posture and position ourselves in some kind of virtual reality; and preach to an imaginary crowd of usual suspects; and pretend that imaginary characters are cheering us on.
Some twenty seconds later; which seemed like two minutes or two hours--this Creature from the Black Lagoon, covered from head-to-toe in seaweed came forth. There was fear in our father’s eyes. A fear I rarely ever saw in our father. Our father was in his mid-thirties, and my juvenile mind had mixed emotions as my brother and I nearly knocked him over with hugs, as our mother joined our merry melody of mayhem, in the midst of near possible other outcomes.
My mother put our father in her own form of quarantine for the rest of that summer-splash afternoon. Moms have their ways. It was a lesson I’ve retrieved as of late--sitting out on my farm porch, seeing and hearing the pitter-patter of rain drops. We lost my father back in 2015. Natural causes of sorts.
The takeaway for me is that God was surely with that younger version of my father in those deep violent waters, just as surely as God had been with my father in those waning days of his eighth decade of life. God is with us in the midst of our undertow, our lock-down, our shelter-in-place. God is the one common denominator, our buoy, our life saver, life raft. God is in the midst of the storm—pulling us out of the soup, the depth of our despair, the Holy One who formed us, and tells us not to fear…
Rev. Dr. Mark Young is District Superintendent of the North District of the Texas Annual Conference: http://www.northdistrictumc.org.
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