Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

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Chasing Waterfalls

Well, I have gone from one week of waterfalls to another.  Luapula is a land of many lakes, perhaps Zambia’s Minnesota.  I fell in love with this place on our long journey down, around, and up along the DR Congolese border.  The Luapula River itself forms much of this border, and it is the result of a vast networks of tributaries.  I never really understood what a floodplain was until I saw fields of grass that were described to me as “the river.”  Looking closely at these fields I could see running water everywhere, with swaths of grass cut by canoes following the known paths of tributaries, the banks of which I am sure become clear as the rainy season rests each year.  As we left the floodplains and came up beside more definitely defined, meandering rivers, we started seeing…you guessed it…waterfalls.  Some were small and some were quite large; all would be considered fantastic destinations for those of us who did not grow up surrounded by above-ground water networks.  

After our training program in Nchelenge, on the Great Lakes sized Lake Mweru, we decided to use a day to visit Ntumbacushi Falls, a wonder on the way to the plateau city of Kawambwa.  In my last post I marveled at “The Smoke that Thunders.”  Mosi-O-Tunya’s cousin Ntumbacushi is “The Mountain Mist.”  What an apt name!  As you stand at the bottom of the falls a cold mist surrounds you and coats your skin.  You can then dry off as you climb the mountain to see the source waterfalls that lead to the big drop at the bottom.  Many miles from Mosi-O-Tunya and different in scale, perspective, and experience, Ntumbacushi made me think about the many ways that water moves and falls in Creation.

Our next step brought this reflection home.  At church in the Mbereshi Mission I participated in the first baptism I have been an active part of since Isabelle was baptized several years ago (wow time flies!).  Changwe performed the washing, the actual water baptism.  I had the blessing of saying the blessing over baby Jaineck.  I had some profound words worked out for this blessing, but as so often happens with prepared words I forgot them.  My heart and mind switched to the profundity of holding a two-month old in my arms who had just been baptized in the names of our Triune God.  I don’t even remember what I said, and I am sure the words were not all that significant as English falling on Bemba-fluent ears.  I do remember, though, my sense of awe at that moment.  It was reminiscent of my awe while standing in front of the raw power of the smoke that thunders and in the cold drizzle of the mountain mist.  The water falling on Jaineck’s forehead was every bit as powerful and refreshing.  

What I wanted to say was something along these lines:

When God began to create, God’s breath moved over the waters

Life was breathed into the deep

Ever since water has been 

Nourishing us

Washing us

Satisfying us

Creating the ecosystems that feed us

And sometimes even destroying us 

The waters flowing at baptism are these same waters

They nourish us, wash us, satisfy us, feed us, and even put us at great risk because of what they call us to.  They are at once gentle and all-consuming in their power.  They are essential to the life of all Creation.

Jaineck has been baptized in these waters.  Bless this baby who is a blessing to all of us.  Bless these parents as they raise this child.  Bless this congregation as they live into their own baptisms and the baptism of Jaineck.

Now, the title of this blog comes from TLC’s masterpiece Waterfalls.  In the song they warn: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.”  They make this warning for good reason, as they view waterfalls as unexpected forces that will take you over the edge and destroy you as soon as you come upon them.  This is a brilliant use of waterfalls as a metaphor.  As we sat along the banks of the Zambezi watching the sunset last week, we were less than a kilometer away from the full force of the smoke that thunders.  And yet, the waters were calm and rapid-free.  The collective genius of TLC tells us that we shouldn’t dive headfirst into unknown rivers and lakes because even the most serene of such can quickly turn into a waterfall.  Therefore we must both remember our roots and take a long view of possible future consequences for our decisions.  This does not, however, mean that we should avoid taking the plunge into the unknown altogether.

When Lisa Left Eye Lopes drops her rap, she declares:

Only my faith can undo 

the many chances I blew

to bring my life anew

Clear and blue and unconditional skies

have dried the tears from my eyes

No more lonely cries

There are some waterways that although unknown may be exactly what we are called to.  Choosing baptism for oneself or one’s child can be such a waterway, because the life of a Christian should be risky and challenging.  For embarking on such journeys, we must practice that oft-forgotten gift of discernment; when we see it is indeed a journey to which we are called by God, then we must have the faith like Left Eye to bring life anew. 

Posted April 11, 2016


Posted by Tyler W. Orem with

Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8