The Great Flood


“…and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying.”–Genesis 8: 13b


There is a happy mystery about water for me, a healing mystery of water receding to leave behind a dry land of new beginnings shaped early by my mother and her view of God.


It was not always that way. When I was a boy, I couldn’t say that I really knew how to swim. I could dog paddle a short distance. Then one day at camp, as I reached the other side of the pool in the river, my hand slipped as I reached for a rock and safety. For a moment I panicked, and didn’t know whether to cry for help or not, until the hand of our adult leader held me up. It was thus I learned that there was something fearful and foreign about water.


But my mother, who was the swimmer in our family, scoffed at my fear and said, “My Hawaiian father just threw me off the boat, and that’s how I learned to swim. Sink or swim, you know.”


Tidal waves were common when she was a girl. I knew that tidal waves were fearsome, threatening things that could drown a whole village, but my mother told about how she and her Hawaiian family would collect fish from the ocean floor when the water receded, and before the water came back with a rush.


This story always captured my imagination. Even now I can see my mother with a basket under her arms, walking about on the ocean floor as if it were dry land and reaching into the coral reef for flopping oholehole and parrot fish and squirming eels. “You had to hurry up,” she said. “Fill that basket and run. The water would come back, twenty, thirty, forty foot waves…Boom!”


When we had boils, she would send us to the ocean to swim and bathe.  The salt water washed away all those dead cells, the poison in us, and we came home with our skins dry and shining.


In the right season, it rained often in Hawaii. I remember those gentle rains marching down the mountain slopes, and the warm water streaming down my face, the sun rising and then our clothes drying so quickly. But sometimes, it rained for days, and we were shut in the houses; and when we went outside, with no sun in sight, our clothes just stayed wet.


The first rainy period in the new subdivision we moved into when I was twelve was one of those long rains. The hillsides had been carved and terraced, and ditches were dug to handle the run-off. But the water overflowed the banks, and the sides of the ditches caved. The neatly terraced hillsides became deeply canyoned and ravined by the water. It was a great flood, a memorable flood. The streets were covered with mud, the culverts were clogged. Cars were stranded everywhere. I hated having to go out and deliver my newspapers; I wanted a day off. But my mother was overjoyed as the water receded. Our backyard, which needed many yards of fill and topsoil before it could be landscaped, was mysteriously covered with a “slab” of mud.


My mother was so grateful to God for the opportunity before us. She had us put on shorts, jump barefooted into mud a foot deep, and plant grass–not seeds, but runners she had gathered from the roadsides and other people’s yards for just this eventuality, it seemed. This is how we got our backyard leveled and covered with grass. And this is how I lost the plantar wart on my big toe: my feet got so soggy during the planting, the wart simply got soft, loosened and fell off.


Mother thanked God for the rain, for the water that made all these things happen. Mother saw the helping hand of God in the world around her, a God who rushes forth to meet our needs even in the midst of difficulty. With her, in thanksgiving, I embrace this God of hope and promise.