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When I left seminary, I made a pact with three of my classmates. Every year we will gather for retreat, reflection, and encouragement. Last May we spent three days at a Benedictine monastery in Nebraska. We prayed the hours with the monks, learned from Father Thomas, enjoyed solitude in nature, and shared reflection on the previous year of ministry. It was a holy time: rejuvenating, connecting, and refreshing.
In the courtyard where the brothers spend their evening free time was a fountain. It was of special significance to Father Thomas, who spent one afternoon with us discussing the imagery of the water, which sprang up without effort to refresh and renew.
This Sunday’s lectionary Psalm, Psalm 36, made me immediately think of Father Thomas and his courtyard fountain. Hear the words of the Psalmist:
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Water has always been a spiritual symbol to me. The waters of baptism remind us of how God cleanses and renews our parched souls. Jesus Christ is living water.
In the monastery courtyard, Father Thomas instructed us to reflect on the water in the fountain. He explained that in our spiritual lives, we often feel like we need to draw our own water: We think that we need to earn, draw up, or produce spiritual experience, refreshment, or felt closeness to God.
In contrast, the fountain reminds us that God lavishes God’s love, grace, and presence on us freely and unceasingly. These gifts spring up from the deep well that is God, through Jesus Christ our living water.
Here’s another image to reflect on from Bernard of Clairvaux:
The one who is wise will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself. You, too, must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts. Do not try to be more generous than God. The reservoir imitates the spring. Only when it is saturated with water it flows to the river and becomes a lake. Do likewise. Start filling; then pour out.
Bernard of Clarivaux, On the Song of Songs
God is a deep well, a fountain of life, a gift of refreshment and nourishment that keeps on giving.
Rejoice, beloved child of God, in this delightful water. Stay and play a while in the grace that God pours out to you this day and always.