How long before the sacred water supply dries up like an old riverbed? Time is ticking...

By Jennifer Chappell

My mother keeps water from the Jordan River out in the deep freeze. She stores it in a plastic jar that once held barbecue sauce from a legendary rib place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

When I first saw that frozen "holy water" behind a label showing a pipe-smoking cook serving up ribs, I paused. It made me think about the "balm of Gilead" of the old Baptist hymn and wonder what kind of container they keep that in. Wincing at such an irreverent thought, I blamed my mother's choice of repository for inspiring it.

I questioned her about the propriety of keeping water that she hoped to pour into a marble baptismal font on her first grandchild's christening day in such a jar. "Well, I have to keep it in something that won't break," said Mother, who has not a profane filament in her body. "And it's plastic."

Mother stood down by the River Jordan on a trip to the Holy Land six years ago. As she meditated on the waters that had once swirled around the waist of John the Baptist, she thought of taking some home so that a minister might one day sprinkle it on the brow of her grandchild. When she presented her souvenir to me (her only hope for furthering our branch of the family tree), I was touched. However, as I was single and very unattached to anyone who could serve as the father to her grandson or granddaughter, I felt a subtle pressure familiar to many Southern women. It's akin to the intangible pull that parishioners feel at an altar call when they're not quite ready to step out into the aisle.

Then I wondered with alarm, "How soon would that water evaporate? How much time do I have?" Mother proffered a solution meant to instill peace like a river in my soul: She would freeze it.

Sure, ice shrinks in the freezer over time through sublimation, a process similar to evaporation. But Mother brought back almost a half-gallon. It would last awhile, she assured me. Perhaps having the water even bettered my chances of meeting Mr. Right. After all, the Jordan has played a part in quite a few miracles.

While Mother's not too worried about whether I'll ever have need of that water, she's still so eager to use it that she's thawed it out on occasion and shared a little with friends for their christening celebrations.

And now, well, we're down to a scant 8 ounces.

Some time ago she poured the remainder from a 2-liter bottle into that quart-size barbecue sauce jar. By the time I have a child to be christened, the minister's fingers may not be dripping with the precious fluid, but there might be enough at least to moisten the baby's hairline.

Mother doesn't know that the jar full of water makes me think more readily of what she must have looked like when she waded into that river than it does of her future grandchildren in handmade christening gowns. I imagine the water dripping off her hair as she came up from it, how her face must have radiated the faith that has helped sustain her–and my father and me–through the years. That faith will last quite a bit longer than the ice in the freezer.

Regarding the diminishing water supply, however, Mother says I should rest easy. She's got an additional bottle she took from the Sea of Galilee. "It's backup," she says.