I swam competitively through college and have tallied over 10,000 miles training throughout my years. I had a fair amount of success, competing in the Olympic Trials and ranking top 25 in the country in the two backstroke events. I identified myself as a “swimmer.” To an extent, my success was a way for me to earn my worth as a person. I now know that no amount of success or prestige can ever fill the God-sized hole in my heart - only He can!
I still love to swim and I sometimes struggle with letting go of that identity. Every time I see a beautiful body of water I immediately think of how I might be able to go for a dip. I have a powerful desire to “enter in” to get a greater experience of the beauty. If there are rivers, lakes or oceans, I’m going in! One time this impulse resulted in me having to rescue two friars that followed me into rough surf at the beach on Long Island (but that’s a story for another time).
I real highlight for me happened just after this past Christmas. I was blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group that included my parents and another friar. It was a life changing experience to be where it all happened! Our first stop was at the Sea of Galilee. If you’ve never been there, it’s magnificent, much more so than I expected. We stayed in a hotel right on the shore in Tiberius. After the overwhelming experience reading some Scripture passages of Jesus in Galilee, I at once thought to myself, “Wow, Jesus walked on this water…I bet he had a mean butterfly too…I’d love to go for a swim.” Being the middle of winter I thought that the water must be freezing. After dipping my feet in the water at Peter’s Primacy (see Jn 21), hope swelled in my heart…it’s not that cold! Our itinerary was packed so I would only have a small window of time to get wet. My last chance would be that afternoon before it got too dark. Dusk was setting in, the temperature had dropped into the 50’s and “the sea rose because a strong wind was blowing” (Jn 6:18)…not inviting for the casual swimmer, I was on my own for this one. After wading through the rocky coast and rough waves I dove in and swam out about 50 yards. My parents were on the shore watching and snapped a few pictures as I floated around enjoying the moment; they’re used to this kind of behavior. After visiting all the sites, now I felt that my visit to Galilee was complete! It was awesome!
I’ve come to understand that being in the water truly is my nitch and my desire to plunge in every body of water I see actually has Biblical foundations. I don’t have to let go of my identity as a swimmer. Chapter 47 of Ezekiel gives the account of the vision he received of the water flowing from the Temple. He describes how the angel led him through the water that was ankle-deep then knee-deep then it was up to his loins. Finally, it “had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming” (Ezek 47:5, NAB). One commentator notes that a better translation might be “waters in which you have to swim.” Swimming in the water does not seem to be an option but, more of a command. The same commentator also points out that in Hebrew, “to swim” is the same word as “to prostrate one self,” which is a symbolic act of surrendering completely with your whole being. Ezekiel’s vision taught me that swimming is actually an act of belief, trust; I must swim. Being in the water there is a certain loss of control that one experiences, there is a real surrender that happens. This image that Ezekiel received is a foreshadowing of the waters of Baptism. Christ identified himself, his body, as the new Temple (see Jn 2:19-22). On Calvary water flowed from the pierced side of Jesus on the Cross (Jn 19:31-37.) As I grow in trust of God I plunge deeper into the living waters of baptism and swim away from the shore immersing myself in the new life offered by Christ, surrendering myself to Him. In these waters it is no longer I that live (or I that am in control), but Christ that is living in me (He’s in control.) In these waters I am truly myself; in fact, I am a “swimmer.” Grab you goggles and join me, I’m going in!
+ Br. Séamus Laracy, CFR
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