Walking through the waters

Dr Tan Lai Yong // July 29, 2022, 2:55 pm

Wash copy

Mr Ohm taking his daily wash at dawn in a gentle brook with clear waters. Photo by Dr Tan Lai Yong.

I got to know him only as Mr Ohm. He would walk up the hill at the crack of dawn and head to the farm.

Mr Ohm, a very quiet man, spoke the local dialect, was friendly but hardly said more than a few words when meeting people. He lived alone, perhaps a widower. I could not find out more.

But he was recommended to our team as a very good farmer – “the best person to care for the soil” – and we needed him.   

He would walk up the hill at dawn. He wears the same T-shirt and same pair of trousers every day.

The team had done the furrows and vegetable rows wrongly at the community farm that was meant to be the demo-plot for showcasing better farming methods for vegetables. We needed a major correction and Mr Ohm was the man for the occasion.

He would walk up the hill at dawn. He wears the same T-shirt and same pair of trousers every day. He started work when others were still slumbering. The team gave him some new clothing but he wears the same old outfit daily – a brown T-shirt that was visibly frayed.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!  (Psalm 51: 1-2 ESV)

I walk the path to the farm too. Along the way, there is a puddle. The footprints at the vicinity of the puddle tell a story.

Into the water

Some of us would tiptoe through the waters. Others will skirt to the side and try our best to avoid the puddle.  I could see Mr Ohm’s footprints – he walks through the puddle.

Those of us with clean shoes (or what we consider as clean) or expensive shoes avoid the puddle. Mr Ohm – he walks right through the puddle.

Those of us who we are clean avoid the puddle. We do not notice the brook or the clear waters of the pond.

Actually, he does not.

Halfway through, he veers off the path and enters the bushes. There is a gentle brook with clear waters that feeds into a small pond by the road, hidden to people who rush by.

Mr Ohm stops, steps into the pond and washes himself in the crisp, cold water.

He rinses his hair and splashes liberally on his face. His brownish T-shirt and his shaggy trousers becomes wet but he comes out of the pond refreshed.

He walks with a slight spring in his feet as he heads to the farm where he will spend a long day tilling the soil.

The Hebrew word for “wash” that is found in Psalm 51 is used about 27 times in the book of Leviticus and eight times in the book of Numbers – details referring to the ceremonial washing and cleansing of clothing and body.

This word for “wash” carries the idea of getting into the water – for instance, to wash by treading on the clothes.

In other ancient communities, this word is related to the occupation of a fuller:

“In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves standing ankle deep in tubs of human urine and cloth. Urine was so important to the fulling business that urine was taxed. Urine, known as ‘wash’, was a source of ammonium salts and assisted in cleansing and whitening the cloth.”

Living waters

Those of us who we are clean avoid the puddle. We do not notice the brook or the clear waters of the pond.

Mr Ohm gets a good wash each time he passes the puddle. Jesus said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 ESV)

I need to learn to walk through the puddle, into the clear waters.

I stood by the side of the puddle, and reflected on a hymn that was written in the 1800s:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

O precious is the flow 
that makes me white as snow; 
no other fount I know; 
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

I watched as Mr Ohm walked up into the vegetable plot. He digs and shovels the heavy soil into the correct contours so as to prevent soil erosion.

In a few weeks, there will be new life of tomatoes, cassava and onions. It will be a quiet but joyful harvest.

Washed clean

My own life – it will be the “same old same old” unless I step under the precious flow and be washed in the blood of Christ.  No more skirting around and no more fuss about my fancy footwear.

I need to learn to walk through the puddle, splash at the clear waters and in my heart, echo the words of the Psalmist:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; 
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
Let me hear joy and gladness; 
let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 
Create in me a clean heart,
O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:7-10)


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About the author

Dr Tan Lai Yong

Dr Tan Lai Yong has been with Bethesda Frankel Estate Church from way back as a teenage Scout in the 1970s. He teaches inter-disciplinary modules at NUS, with classes such as “Hidden Communities in Singapore” and “Leadership @The Fringes”. When not on teaching duties, he and his wife are involved in rural community projects in small islands in Indonesia.