Carl Hofmann's Reflections on Life, Spirituality, Theology...and Everything In-Between
Water Delivery Systems
Recently, our couples group was having an interesting discussion around Chapter Two of N.T. Wright’s very good book, Simply Christian. The chapter, entitled “The Hidden Spring”, is focused on the longing for God (which Wright calls the “echo of a voice”) found in humankind’s irrepressible pursuit of spirituality. Wright highlights how human beings are made for God, that we thirst for God, and that no amount of rationalism, materialism, or any other –ism can satisfy our thirsty souls. We come wired that way. To show how modernity has failed to repress or deny the human urge for spirituality, Wright opens with an analogy of a dictator who paves over a series of artesian wells only to find that over time these springs of water inevitably force themselves through the concrete.
It occurred to me, expanding on this analogy of humankind’s irrepressible thirst for God (for what the Bible calls “living water”—see Psalm 42, and especially, John 7:37-39) that all human attempts at spirituality are efforts to access this living water and lift it to our lips to drink. From the simplest cupping of the hand for a scoop of water, to turning a spigot, human beings have a history of making attempts to drink of God’s life. Larger historical religious systems are more like elaborate water utilities, vast subterranean pipelines with buried water mains, switches, tanks, pressure systems, filtration, faucets, and hot and cold handles. Whether highly sophisticated or disarmingly simple, these spiritual structures are variations on the same theme: helping people drink of Living Water. Some are effective; some are outmoded; some are broken; some are brand new. Through some comes a trickle, through others a geyser. Some are polluted; some are reddish and stained with rust. The effectiveness of each system has to do with whether or not it is firmly anchored to its source and whether or not it can pipe the water unadulterated to thirsty people for satisfying consumption. In many cases, repairs are needed: water mains break, sinkholes develop, and a crew must be called in to mend the system. In newer communities, newer water provision systems must be dug into the ground. The piping is made of different material; the sink fixtures reflect a different style. But the living water and its accessibility to the thirsty human soul—that’s the whole goal of any religious structure, any spiritual activity. These are delivery systems which mustn’t be confused with that which they deliver. The point is getting human beings to drink deeply of Living Water—not to focus overmuch on the delivery system itself. Make sense?
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