Old Woman and the Sea

I am no Hemingway…

But like the Old Man of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I have long had a problematic relationship with large bodies of water.

Sea water and pool water.

As a child – by the sea, by the beautiful sea – my fair, freckled skin would fry to a crisp. Bright red and hot to the touch – it took just 15 minutes splashing around in the waves – until I was thoroughly cooked.

Slathered with Solarcaine, I was waylaid on the sand. To shield me from the sun, I had to wear my father’s t-shirt and my mother’s floppy hat – while my siblings boogie-boarded and had a grand old time.

The sea was not my friend — but neither was the neighborhood pool.

My older sister, Maureen, once she reached driving age, chauffeured us in a fish-tailed Plymouth station wagon to our swimming lessons.

I flunked. I flunked swimming lessons three times. Once. Twice. Thrice.

Terrified of heights, I never learned to dive. The best I managed to do was doggy paddle the width – not the length – of the pool. By the time I finally passed, I was at least a head taller than all of the other pollywogs in my class.

Yes, I have long had a problematic relationship with water. Water won. I lost.

So, water and I made a deal. “I’ll wear my swim suit, Water, but I will never get it wet.”

Be it by the pool or by the sea, I would find a comfortable chair, slather my fair and freckled skin with SPF 100, sit under an umbrella and read a book – or two – or three.

Slather, rinse, repeat.

And that is how I thought it was going to be – for all eternity — with water and me.


Cross training to walk my first half marathon, I signed up for twice weekly water aerobics at the local rec center.

Now most people think water aerobics is just a bunch of old ladies splashing around in the pool.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Barbara Burke (a friend who also cantors here at Emmanuel) was my instructor and she worked us like a drill sergeant. The routine was demanding but never boring. Armed with noodles and styrofoam barbells, water shoes, and swimming gloves:

Like frogs we skimmed the surface.

Like yogis we stretched.

Like rowers we rowed ourselves ashore.

Like dolphins we’d submerge and rise again.

All safely in four feet of water. With life guards on duty.

No rough waves, no winds, no storms.  No need to walk on water. Though the thought of that is pretty amazing.

A while back an American Evangelical group had big plans for the Second Coming. They planned to build a theme park – a literal reconstruction of the Sea of Galilee – with securely placed stepping stones beneath the water’s surface. With simulated storms and a sink proof boat – tighter than the Titanic!

For $29.95 who would not want to walk in the miraculous footsteps of Jesus? No trust or faith required. Just your credit card.

But real life is a risky business. Our lives begin in the waters of the womb.  And water can wash our lives away.  High tides. Floods. Cross currents. Overwhelming waves. Metaphorically, as well as, literally, right?

And what names do we give the waves?









We often find ourselves unmoored, off-course, and lost at sea.

Like recent deluges that have swept the country, it seems we might drown beneath the waves. From whence is our help to come?

Well, from Jesus the carpenter, of course. The Jesus who hung out with a lot of fisher folks. The gospels are full of Jesus stories about choppy seas.

It was dark. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about two or three miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; Do not be afraid.”  Then they wanted to take him into the boat immediately.

John 16:18-20

Of course, they wanted him immediately in the boat. Wouldn’t you?

In our darkest hour, it is hard to see, but Jesus is always just a prayer away. A very human Jesus, who understands our every emotion – because he has felt them in his flesh.

Though the waves may knock us down again and again, with Jesus we will not be overcome. Because in baptism, this blessed water washes clean our sinful souls, makes clear our path, and grants us a new beginning. Our hearts are uplifted to the Lord and our very life in Christ is renewed. 

In healing waters.  Baptismal waters.

Thank you, Lord God of the Universe, for the gift of water. Over it the Spirit moved at the dawn of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 309

And in these holy waters, we die and rise again.

So, take a dip in the pool. Make a last dash to the beach. It is still officially summer, you know. Take to the healing waters, grateful for the Source of Life and Light and Love and everything good under the sun. Grateful for Jesus our brother — the God — who walks on water.

Pax vobiscum,


Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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