By Darci Jaret
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic.The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
From water in a drop of dew—arriving gently in the waking dawn of the day in the tiniest of miracles. To Water—symbolizing the wild, the untamable, the mysteries of the deep. From the Chattahoochee watershed fought for in water wars for generations to the Sweetwater Creek on the southside where the remnants of factories burnt in the Civil War still stand.
Water is our history. Water is the reason the Muscogee people, descendants of the predominant Mississippian peoples, were named “Creek,” by the colonizers. They settled and built mounds and small pyramid structures next to flowing water. Water. Is. Life.
Water—bespeaking the spirit of God pouring from the fountain of earth. Water—embodying the very building block of evolution. We, each of us, becomes and grows in water. When we are born, on average the bodies of babies are made up of 78% water. Water is Life.
Pablo Neruda wrote in his Sonnet 34 an ode to the waters of one’s life:
You are the daughter of the sea, oregano’s first cousin
Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with the earth
Your eyes go out toward the water, and the waves rise;
Your hands go out to the earth and the seeds swell;
you know the deep essence of water and the earth, conjoined in you like a formula for clay
Water is life. The voices of indigenous water protectors ring out still from the Lakota and the Sioux, indigenous and native-allies. Mni Winconi -Water is life.
Water is life- we say this honoring the watershed, the Chattahoochee; we say water is life speaking out loud the history of these words and placing it also in our biblical tradition as well.
Water commanded by Jesus. Walked upon and then calmed by our Black messiah. Water that welcomed and baptized John, Jesus and the Ethiopian. All of whom God called Good.
Water was in the beginning. God spoke over the water. Life emerged from the water. Water IS life. Theories of the origins of freshwater on earth are fascinating. Scientists used to believe predominantly that freshwater must have originated on the earth from asteroid impacts in the solar system. SPACE WATER!!! I love that! Especially in light of water’s preternatural ability to measure impact. Water itself coming from collision and explosion is fascinating.
It is now the pervasive theory that hydrogen and oxygen present in the gaseous formation of planet earth are what make up the underground fresh water system. Water formed from the cosmos.
Water is life. Particularly for desert cultures in a place from which essential diatoms in the cycle of how life evolved.
For the fleeing Israelites pinned between the bellicose army of the hard-hearted Pharoah and the water of the sea of reeds, water was a natural barrier. For every desert culture water represented life—YES—water was wild and unpredictable, but water, referenced 722 times in the Bible, was a GIFT from God—NOT THIS TIME. In this case of military maneuvering and the cat and mouse game playing out between enslaved people and their oppressors—this water had them trapped. They were pinned in. There was nowhere to go. But God made a way.
The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.
“Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
In the middle of the desert wilderness, a generation of enslaved people who were probably terrified heard these words. Feeling trapped and pinned down; families and children; I must keep walking; try not to cry; our bodies need all the water we have.
The impending wave of cavalry; hooves pounding; could they hear it? Could they see the earth moving? The Egyptians charge forward toward the retreating Israelites, as those faithful words escape the mouth of God’s chosen—Moses. “Do not be afraid.” Water is Life.
And the Lord said unto Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.”
The description in this scripture is repetitive; the water formed a wall to the Israelites right and to their left. The wall of water is exactly HOW the sea parts. The water formed walls on both the right and the left of the fleeing people. This must have sounded so unimaginable to early listeners of this story. Walls of Water—Walls of wildness—Walls of salvation in a dry world; Walls of the stuff of LIFE—held back by the One true God.
WATER is LIFE. Yet—this image might have lost its earth-shattering significance. You or I might just picture walking through the aquarium. Water conveniently held in place by giant tanks on either side; the blue reflective water showing us the secrets of the deep while we walk on dry ground.
When trying to describe this passage to [my child] Luis, who hasn’t yet been to the aquarium—I found myself making the comparison to the movie MOANA—one of our most favorite movies; you remember the part—when the Ocean is calling to a young Moana; beckoning her toward her destiny; even though she is yet a toddler; The ocean offers shells to entice the curious little Moana to walk into the parting water toward the heart of Tahiti ; the journey of her life; that would bring her around the world and you see the walls of water around her. In the water she would find herself and redefine her people’s history.
The walls of water have captivated imaginations throughout time. The Israelites walked on dry land through the water, which was all around them on their left and on their right. There have been countless writings on the symbolism of this phrasing. These writings of biblical imagination are an amazing and rich tradition that is the foundation of the rabbinic Judaism, the modern tradition. Modern Judaism is very different today, but the words of the ancient rabbis come from the oral tradition that was, at least in part, preserved through the work of the Pharisees. I make this distinction to honor this tradition and make a point about antisemitism or ANY ONE group who is wholly denigrated or written off. These beautiful lessons come from the work of the Pharisees.
One of these beautiful imaginings about this part of the Exodus story has stuck with me for over 5 years. I first heard of this Rabbinic writing when I led a group painting a mural at the Congregation Bet Haverim during the Passover season. With this group we wove our stories together through images and paint in a process of communal remembering, recognition and creativity. I never forgot the teaching that day from the Mishnah that Rabbi Josh Lesser offered. The rabbis wrote that when the Israelites looked into the walls of water on their left and on their right they could see all of their ancestors; they could see all of their people that ever have been. As they walked toward their freedom, leaning into the strong hands of their redeeming God, they looked into the walls of water staring down their past and even into their future, for the Rabbis wrote that it wasn’t just their foreparents that were presented in the walls of water, it was all the generations to come.
On this past Sunday in the Christian tradition we celebrated All Saints Day. And I think it’s important on this Sunday in particular that we hear a message of recognizing our ancestors. We too can see our foreparents and be reminded of the impact of our lives through water. Yes we will light candles as is tradition, and on this Sunday we can use water in an even more ancient tradition to remember the generations past.
The Israelites saw their whole lives. Their families, lost in the brutal life of enslavement; their foreparents who came to the land of Egypt and thrived and even their children and grandchildren to come surviving and persevering through times of insecurity and turmoil. They say it all in the wall of water. Water is life.
Water, this reflective surface; light bouncing off dancing water, still today, might show us our whole lives. Water has memory. Water holds the ripples of impact. Water is impacted by our actions.
In the book The Hidden Messages in Water Masaro Emoto wrote about water’s replicating and responsive properties, a conclusion he demonstrates through observing water crystals. He spent years photographing these microscopic individual snowflake-like shapes that ice forms right before melting. According to this research, water that was infused with positivity and love responded in the production of authentic symmetrical crystals. Water that was exposed to negativity either could not form crystals or produced half formed shapes.
If water is life because of the positivity and energy in this flowing living water, then water too can and is impacted by pollution and negativity, even more than we know. Water is scarce in many places and in others it has been contaminated and infused with negativity. Here in Georgia the Savannah River site and Plant Vogel have degraded the quality of the Savannah River. Reports cite that the river is 70% polluted. Not sure if one can measure the impact of this pollution in numbers alone. This flowing water, from which no crystals could form, people depend on in the watershed. Water is life, but we must treat it as the life-giving force that it is.
If we look deeply into the wall of water, will we see for the first time why water is so important in our identities. If we look genuinely into the water, we too can remember our ancestors. We can recognize ourselves as the ripples of their impact, and we are building the future with the next generation. On this All Saints Sunday we would like to honor our ancestors. We build from what they did and left us. And just as Water mirrors and reflects vibrations in sound and frequency. Water can help us remember who we are as well.
I’m reminded of that part in the Lion King (yes another reference to Disney’s works!)—but you remember that part. The Lion King is classic; It’s when Rafiki has found Simba in the far away woods living his life with no worries. Rafiki tells Simba that his father Mufasa is still there.
Unbelieving but desperate to connect, Simba follows Rafiki through a dark and twisted wood until he emerges over the water and looks at the surface. “Look again” cackles Rafiki and suddenly Mufasa manifests from the water all the way to the clouds (another form of water) to remind Simba of who he is. Water is life. Water can speak life to us.
Water is so powerful and wild. Water is precious and important. The story of the Israelites might once have been the lesson of God’s chosen people, but I’ve also heard it said that God wept for the lost Egyptians as well. Water is Life, and it can be our death if we forget ourselves or forget the unrestrained capability of the large seas.
As the Genesis story recounts, God spoke over the swirling water, so water existed alongside the authenticator of life. Water is life. Jesus offered living water at the well; this offer is for all. Jesus, who tamed the wild waters, and walked, and spoke over and washed in the waters.
Jesus whose very body began at 78% water, like us all. Water is in us all. Water is life, and our lives are infused and enriched. So let us connect again with our essential element. Let us connect again with ourselves, as Neruda reminds us, “You are the daughter [or son, or sibling or progeny] of the sea…Your body is pure as the water.” You have no need to cleanse yourself, just be as the water you are from within, adaptable, impressionable, seeking balance and being and reflecting what is around you. It is within us all.
We can remember our ancestors this morning. We have placed our photos on the altar, next to bowls of positively infused water. Let’s practice active remembering this morning. There are stations around the sanctuary to utilize water to actively remember; touch the water and remember your baptism, look into the water and see your foreparents reflected; remember your ancestors, let the water transport you. Water is life.
This text was originally written as a sermon and preached at congregational partner Park Ave. Baptist Church on Sunday, October 31, 2021.
Rev. Darci Jaret is a bi-vocational pastor, advocate, art minister, enthusiast and trans nonbinary human. They journey with the community of Park Avenue Baptist Church in creativity and in non hierarchical community. This ministry centers the work of abolition, artistic spiritual expression, anti-racism and recovering from religious and theological trauma. Darci also does case management for a women and children-centered PATH program in the city. Focusing care on people who are experiencing homelessness, who have experienced financial trauma characterizes the other part of Darci’s vocation.