I awoke on Monday morning with a completely empty mind. I had no idea what to explore this week. I went through my usual morning prayer and meditative routine which continued as I enjoyed my shower. Now as you may or may not know I have a brand new bathroom, with a wonderful shower. As I stood there washing and just enjoying the heat of the water splashing all over me, as my senses woke fully to life, it came to me what I wanted to explore this week, water.
Water the most basic element of life, both of the external life and our own bodies. We are made of water. We live on planet earth and yet truth be told if we look at picture of our world from space should we really call it planet earth, surely it is planet water. The surface of our planet is two thirds water. Physically we are mainly made up of water.
We are like water. Yes our physical form is solid and unbending but our psyche is not. It can be bent and shaped in all directions, much like water. The bending and the shaping does not really occur at the physical level, more the metaphysical one. People change, although physically they may well look the same.
Although our world is mainly water so many people live without this basic resource. I’m very aware how fortunate I am to live in a time and place where clean, hot, running water is readily available. A hundred years ago this was not necessarily the case in this country and it is not the case for so many people who live in many parts of the world today.
I remember being made aware of this during my trip to Transylvania a couple of years ago. I noticed that there were wells in several of the yards of the homes I visited in Maros St George. Now as it happens these were no longer in use as the town now had a general water supply. That said this was not the case for the more remote village of Icland. The homes there were still supplied by well water.
For many folk in many parts of the world the situation is far more desperate. How many lives perish each year because of the lack clean or any water at all?
We cannot live without water, well not for more than one week they say. I know I can't if you've ever seen me lead worship you will see I guzzle large amounts of it throughout the hour. What that is about is a mystery to me to, maybe it’s that living breathing spirit coming out of me? God knows!
With water being so central to life it is hardly surprising then that it would play such a large role in the many religious traditions of humanity. It is central to many of rituals of most faiths. It symbolises birth and re-birth and is seen not only as a sustaining substance but as a cleansing and therefore purifying one.
God or the Divine is often portrayed by water. This is hardly surprising when you think of its many qualities. It can bend into any shape and cover and over power all life. It is life giving and sustaining and can be immensely powerful. It brings to mind some words by Forrest Church on God. Forrest said “God is not God’s name. God is our name for that power that is greater than all and yet present in each.” Isn’t that what water is a power that is greater than all and yet present in each.
The spiritual, the religious life, is about living in a certain way. The question I suppose is what is the right way? Well maybe water or the qualities it possesses can teach us the way. Perhaps the way is to live like water; to live with the qualities that water has.
Taoism teaches this, claiming that we must go with the flow of life, like water:
Nothing in the world is softer than water,
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.
This is because nothing can alter it.
That soft overcomes the hard
And gentle overcomes the aggressive
Is something that everybody knows
But none can do themselves.
Therefore the sages say:
The one who accepts the dirt of the state
Becomes its master.
The one who accepts its calamity
Becomes king of the world.
The Martial Artist Bruce Lee offered similar advice when he said:
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You can put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You can put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
I believe that there is real wisdom in this. We can’t physically bend and shape much like water does, but I don’t think this is what is being meant here. I think this is talking about how we live. It’s our persona, our spirit, it is this that needs to bend and shape in order to be in harmony with all life and that eternal spirit that flows like water through all life.
There is something in this formlessness and the bending and shaping that speaks to me of truth, particularly religious truth. In the introduction to “One River Many Wells” Matthew Fox states:
“Meister Eckhart says: ‘Divinity is an Underground river that no one can stop and no one can dam up.” Fox himself says that “There is one underground river – but there are many wells into the river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Goddess well, a Christian well, an Aboriginal well. Many wells but one river. To go down a well is to practise a tradition, but we would make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river. That is Deep Ecumenism.”
Again this teaches something of the qualities of water that we can learn form. We can access water as we can access truth but we can never get the full picture, the whole truth and how ever we access the truth is always limited. That said if we come together we can drink from one another’s sources and share the one universal river of life.
We are one we are interconnected as we are with all life.
Water is the basic element of life. We are mainly made from it and we depend upon it. It unites everything that lives on this earth and links us not only to one another but to all that is. It is a power that we can work with and therefore live successfully or against and therefore struggle with. If we remain rigid in all things we will struggle but if we can be moulded and bend ourselves to fit with life and that spirit that permeates all life we can be in harmony with everything.
Today I offer praise to water, that power that is greater than all and yet present in each.
Water the most basic ingredient of all life, may we absorb the lessons you offer us.
Bend us, shape us, form us in your image.
I will end this little chip of a blog with following words by Denise Levertov
“The Fountain” by Denise Levertov
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched — but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.