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Catholic News Herald

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ascikSave me O Lord, for the waters have risen to my neck. – Psalm 69

The image of water in the Bible is simultaneously an image of danger and a powerful image of God. In the beginning the Spirit hovered over the waters.

Noah is delivered from the waters of the Flood, and Moses and the Israelites through the Red Sea. In Psalm 69, we pray: “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck. I have sunk into the mud of the deep and there is no foothold. I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me.” And yet in Psalm 23: “You lead me beside still waters, you restore my soul.” In Psalm 42: “As the deer yearns for flowing streams, so my soul is yearning for you my God.”

There is a duality about water. On the one hand it is a threat; on the other, it is a symbol of the depths of God and the depths of His mercy, of His power to cleanse and heal.

The waters have lifted up, O Lord,
The waters have lifted up their voice,
The waters have lifted up their thunder. (Psalm 93)

Amid all the devastation of the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, it is beautiful to see so many stories of ordinary people outdoing each other in acts of love. Amid all the bitterness that has arisen in our nation in the past few weeks, perhaps we have rediscovered our neighbor and found that he is not as bad as we have been led to believe. My uncle’s family was evacuated by three police officers who heard a pregnant woman and a small child were at risk and came looking for them. They were carried to dry land, and then two young volunteers in an SUV took them on to the shelter. They stopped at a grocery store and one of the volunteers gave them $20 out of his own pocket to buy food. My cousin stayed behind in the flood zone to aid other families as his own wife and children were being evacuated.

Politicians are of one mind about relief and rescue efforts. And the media are focused on getting life-saving information out and highlighting the heroes of the day. I have even seen multiple stories of news crews who jumped in to help save the lives of the people they were covering.

It seems that the waters of the flood have not risen higher than the waters of God’s mercy. And amid the suffering, there is perhaps a cleansing of the heart going on in our nation after several weeks marked by bitterness and suspicion. As my uncle commented after he and his family were rescued, “We have seen Jesus’ face many times today.”

The waters saw you O God,
The waters saw you and trembled;
The depths were moved with terror.
The clouds poured down rain,
The skies sent forth their voice;
Your arrows flashed to and fro. (Psalm 77)

It is through the sea that Israel was saved, and the Church has always seen in this an image of our salvation through the waters of baptism. God acts in the deep waters, despite their fearsomeness and mystery. “Save us Lord, we are perishing,” prayed the Apostles in the boat in the midst of a terrifying tempest on the Sea of Galilee, and yet Christ awoke at the center of it and stilled the storm and the waves.

People are huddled in shelters and harbored in neighbor’s houses, and yet despite the losses we also hear expressions of gratitude for being saved, gratitude that they still have each other. Perhaps when the waters recede we might not forget that we are all struggling through the waters of a flood, and that we are all in need of help and shelter. Perhaps we can remember how like a shelter our churches, our neighborhoods and our homes ought to be, and how many people are cold and wet and in need of being welcomed and taken in. How deeply our nation could be healed by the simple chain of acts of love we saw crisscrossing sunken Houston this week. How much more important than any policy or politician could reaching out to our neighbor be, despite our differences of opinion. When we all experience the flood, politics and race and religion suddenly don’t matter. What matters is reaching out with those simple acts that Catholics call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The earth was moved and trembled
When your way led through the sea,
Your path through the mighty waters,
And no one saw your footprints.
You guided your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Psalm 77)

I wonder if our salvation won’t look much like this: surrounded by the waters, having lost so much of what we thought was important and yet discovered was not so important. Held by the hands of those close to us, whatever differences we had having been swept away. Battered and a little worse for wear, yet warmed at the hearth of that love that smolders in the human heart and gets fanned into flame by the most unexpected events.

— Father Peter Ascik serves at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlotte. His uncle's and cousin’s families were among thousands of people rescued from floodwaters last week in Houston after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas and Louisiana coasts.