Water is essential to all life on earth. In fact, it infuses every part of our human bodies. Approximately 60% of each of us is composed of water. But water doesn’t just constitute us. It also sustains us. It’s a primary building block for healthy human cells. It helps to regulate our body temperatures. It carries nutrients throughout our bloodstream. It flushes toxins out of us. It lubricates our body’s joints and muscles. And so much more. Water is a key part of our very physiology.
But water is also symbolic. It’s a powerful source-metaphor for that which feeds our spiritual beings as well. For that which maintains, nourishes, and replenishes us in our faith. Like nature’s water, the ‘water of our souls’ is uniquely special. It has a form, but we cannot hold it in our hands. For it is elusive and resists the tight grip of our fingers. It’s also impervious to any force that we impose on it. Because it always shifts and moves in a fluid response. The water of our souls can be gentle like a pond. Or strong like a rushing river whenever called upon by us for help. And, as in nature, the ways of our spiritual ‘water’ exceed the limits of our limited human comprehension. We must approach it with an ample portion of awe and mystery.
That said, where we draw our spiritual ‘water’ from actually matters in our lives. We can bring it forth each day from an established well without, of sorts. In so doing, we lower our proverbial bucket into the well—then use our human strength to pull it up from the depths of the cistern. This ‘cistern’ might be a holy book, a specific religious practice, a sacrament, or a daily ritual. But as we drink from it each day, we must do so hoping that it remains ever full and fresh. For wells can run low in times of draught. Or even dry up. Conversely, the water within the well can freeze when bitter cold strikes. Whatever the time of year, the rigid walls surrounding the well can slowly corrode or decompose from within, as well. And the water can turn stagnant or even bitter as a result— a victim of the well’s own very stillness.
But there’s another way. We can sustain our spirituality from a source of truly flowing ‘water’. This kind of water attracts and carries rich nutrients to us from upstream. It’s teeming with rich, diverse life. It’s a wonder to behold. For gently moving water is peaceful and calming to the human eye. Yet, when it runs with more momentum, it creates an exhilarating energy for miles and miles downstream. And flowing water always finds a way. It keeps moving continuously despite the many obstacles placed in its way. It efficiently diverts itself from the path of our ‘rocks and fallen branches’ in life, easily and almost effortlessly maneuvering around these things. And this water never grows stagnant or stale. It is never constrained by the narrow and limiting walls of a well.
Holistic, potentially healthier human spirituality is a lot like moving water, I suppose. It entails going with the ‘flow’ of God’s creative, dynamic, and ever-expressive love. It’s a spirituality that dwells in questions and reflections more than in trying to find the answer. It reaches far beyond rigid doctrine– then keeps going with an always-fresh, timeless heart. It embraces the notion that no one religion is the sole arbiter of truth. It strives for much, much more than what’s comfortable, static, and easy– while inherently understanding that the journey, itself, is the main point of it all.
To be sure, we can be both spiritual and religious. Or either one. Or neither one, for that matter. But inclusive spirituality derives, first and foremost, not from our specific religious beliefs. But from our very ‘being’ and our connections. Connections to our authentic selves, to firmly held universal values, to other persons, to our planet, to overarching meaning and purpose, to timeless causes, and to that which transcends us through God. Healthy spirituality should both underpin and go beyond religious beliefs. This kind of spirituality honors our foundational rituals, sacraments, and beliefs while simultaneously refusing to get stuck there. It entreats us to keep striving forward with a heart of curiosity and openness to God’s expansive, amazing, and unconditional love. A love that truly flows, not one that remains contained in a well.
In this spirit, I offer you some reflections to consider as you explore the nature of your own spirituality in life:
What You Believe
Does Your Own Belief System:
- Perceive itself as the Object itself… or simply as one of many possible fingers pointing to the greater, more transcendent object of your faith?
- Focus on possessing and constricting God… or allowing God to remain beyond anything that you can ever really understand, define, and describe?
- Seek certainty… or respect the eternal mystery of the ultimately incomprehensible?
And with what effect?
How Your Spirituality is Communicated
- Use words and language with hubris… or as humble, incomplete, and ever-evolving symbols?
- Focus more on preaching and commanding love… or on actually practicing love every day in an inclusive and active way?
- Require constant sound, activity, and dialogue… or celebrate stillness and silence in your worship, prayer, and practice?
And with what effect?
How You Practice Your Spirituality
- Depend on unchanging and exclusive doctrine… or embrace curiosity and expansiveness in your thinking and beliefs?
- Generally define your faith through possession of its knowledge… or allow your individual human experience with the Divine to more fully enter in?
- Focus on having arrived and being ‘saved’… or on continuously ‘becoming’ in your life?
And with what effect?
What’s Included in Your Spirituality?
- Live as if your specific faith tradition is the sole, exclusive way to worship… or as simply one of many possible ways to achieve greater peace through God?
- Operate within a framework of imposed patriarchy and hierarchy… or welcome and embed diverse participation, ideas, empowered wisdom, and leadership from everyone?
- Build walls of distrust and division between you and those outside your inner circle… or tear these walls down in love?
And with what effect?
However you describe the living ‘water’ of your own individual spirituality, my wish is that you will always be blessed and strengthened in your respective journeys. For all of humanity is part of one loved family of shared creation on this earth.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet