Rock and Sand

The water babies class was proceeding noisily. I watched my little granddaughter splashing around happily with her dad. Neither holy Scripture nor world economics was at the forefront of my mind. I was just intrigued by the fact that it is possible to teach very young children to swim, because actually they already know how and have not yet learned about fear.

The teacher did a little exercise with them that is worth reflecting on. In the middle of the pool was an inflatable platform. Each child in turn was invited to clamber up onto it. Clinging to their parent’s hand, they then staggered across it, discovering how wobbly the whole contraption really was. At the other side they then flopped back into the water. All this to the accompaniment of nursery rhymes, of course.

I noticed, first, how eagerly the children climbed up onto the island refuge in the middle of the pool and how quickly they realized that it was not as solid as it looked; then how they fell back into the water and discovered that it really would hold them up. I thought of Jesus’ words about the house built on rock and the house built on sand—wise guidance. But what if the things we think are rock turn out to be sand, and what we might dismiss as sand turns out, after all, to be rock? Those children thought the inflatable island was a rock. They soon found out how unstable it was and that the water was a more reliable support. Jesus, of course, constantly warned us that we cannot trust our own estimation of what is solid and what is not. Things are definitely not always what they seem.

Never in my lifetime have we been so brutally reminded of this as in the present economic downturn. The first indicator of the slide into recession in the United Kingdom came two years ago with the fall of the financial institution Northern Rock. Many people had built their houses on that particular rock. It turned to sand beneath their feet. Now the rock of market forces is turning to quicksand all around the globe. We have stored up treasure for ourselves in barns where the moths of irresponsible lending and the rust of unregulated profiteering have gotten in and destroyed it.

As I watched those little children in the pool, I asked myself: “Why are they able to let themselves plunge into the water so fearlessly and risk its depths?” The answer was obvious. Each of them was close to a loving parent, who was only waiting to catch them, hold them, embrace them, praise and encourage them. Not one of them had yet experienced any reason to move through the world with anything but perfect trust. It would be easy simply to draw the conclusion that all we need to do is trust God as we flounder in the quicksand of recession. That may be easily said, especially on a Sunday morning, but not so easily trusted when Monday comes. Those children trusted their parents because they had never had cause to doubt that trust. Most of us, sadly, cannot say that about life. The words “trust in God” have to go way beyond the creedal statements; otherwise faith becomes little more than an inflatable island. We feel the wobbles, in spite of what we profess.

The God who was holding those children safe was not coming down from heaven on a pink cloud but was holding them through the arms of their parents. And that, perhaps, is the secret of how we actually allow God’s love and rock-like solidity to become incarnate in our very unstable world. We are called, challenged and empowered to extend this kind of loving hold to each other. God has no arms but ours in which to hold God’s people.

The challenge of our day is not just economic but spiritual. Can we be to others the rock of love, trust and support that Jesus models for us? It sounds as flimsy and unlikely as the ripples on the pool, but in the end it is the water, not the artificial platform, that provides the buoyancy.

God asks us to provide that base of trust for each other in our everyday dealings—to be a ripple on the ocean of God’s love. It is not an esoteric mystery. How to do it is clearly spelled out for us in the life and death of Jesus. It is not something to be left solely to our governments. The potential for personal trustworthiness lies within each of us. We are simply asked to let it grow and show. And historically, there is no more opportune time to discover the power of mutual trust, support and love than when our man-made platforms are sinking.

Bruce Snowden
7 years 12 months ago
In "Rock And Sand" (Am.5/4/09) Margaret Silf is "intrigued" that very young children can swim because, "they have not learned to fear." That's true but it goes far beyond lack of fear if evolutionary theory is correct, that, life emerged from the sea, making all of us innate primordial swimmers! Also note, the innate swim-ability of humanity in its seminal swim to conception, obviously doing what comes naturally. And note as well, the joyous pre-natal swim of fetal humanity in the maternal embryonic fluid, now observable in uterine photography. Even vegetable life reacts "swimmingly" so to speak, to acquatic relationships, leaping back to verdantcy from wilted thirst when watered. There is clear intrinsic connection between water and life, just as there is an intrinsic connection (maybe not so clear) between rock and sand, the former being a solid relative of the latter, giving both a relational flexibility. No wonder Jesus used "rock" as a symbol of the Church suggesting Divine flexibility manifest in creation's fluidity, of which the Church is part as are we. No wonder, too, that Jesus also used the force of water through Baptism, to push open the Gates of heaven. Margaret Silf is always spiritually and intellectually stimulating!

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Celebrating Mass was wonderful the first time I did it 63 years ago. It is, if possible, even more wonderful today.
John Jay HughesApril 27, 2017
House Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to “reform and repeal” the Affordable Care Act before the clock runs out on the Trump administration’s first 100 days on Saturday, April 29.
Kevin ClarkeApril 27, 2017
Death-row inmate Ledell Lee. A ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was misleadingly obtained cleared the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday, April 20, 2017, although he still had pending requests for reprieve. (Arkansas Department of Correction via AP)
To take Holy Communion in the face of death is to say that it is fellowship, and not food, that matters most.
Terrance KleinApril 26, 2017
A man rides a bicycle past a billboard with an image of Pope Francis April 26 ahead of the pontiff's April 28-29 visit to Cairo. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
“Peace be with you” was the message of the Risen Jesus to his disciples on the first Easter, and it is the message Francis will bring to the Muslim and Christian communities in this land.
Gerard O'ConnellApril 26, 2017