My daughter’s teacher has been doing a fantastic job teaching her students about some important figures in Black American history this month. One day my child came home from school and told me all about how Harriet Tubman had helped slaves escape to freedom in the northern United States. I was pretty impressed by what she knew. And whenever I think about those Underground Railroad narratives of heroism and risk, I inevitably think of the spirituals that were sung during that time — spirituals that were actually veiled instructions to help these souls escape oppression.
One of the more recognizable spirituals is “Wade in the Water,” which told slaves to use rivers and streams to travel north. Walk through and even hide in the water. Immerse yourself, so the bounty hunters’ dogs don’t pick up your scent and drag you back to bondage. Find your freedom in the water. Harriet Tubman used this song.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings of this first Sunday in Lent have us immersed in water — the water of the flood, the waters of Christ’s baptism, and the waters of our own baptism. In the Psalm we have David imploring God to direct his path, teach him the way, and help him escape from his enemies.
These themes of being hidden/protected in the water, finding promise in God’s protection and provision, and looking to God to order our steps come on the heels of the Ash Wednesday declaration that we are but dust. Understanding that we are but dust, we now come to understand that we need help. We are dependent upon God’s covenant with us, that we have been made new by the waters of the flood, and that God is with us. We trust that in baptism we are raised right along with Christ. We look to God to direct us in the right way to go from here, and to keep our enemies (whomever and whatever they may be) at bay.
Where are you going with these texts? What threads are you following? In what direction are you being led?