Being Like Water

How to move beyond

“You are like stone. Be like water.”

I first heard this at the height of my wary cynicism phase. In my universe, most other people and all of society’s institutions would eventually let you down. 

To be fair to my younger self, I was only just learning to navigate young adulthood. My childhood memories of abuse, rejection, and exploitation were still open wounds. 

Paradoxically, these wounds announced themselves to me in nagging feelings of shame that occasionally erupted into turbulent, overwhelming storms. In other words, the anger I felt at those who injured me had mutated into a persistent sense that I could never measure up. I was just no good.

Admitting to my inner turmoil and to the injuries that gave rise to it felt too risky at the time. So, I adopted the posture of wary cynicism. To borrow a phrase from Timon of The Lion King, when the world turned its back on me I turned my back on the world.

And then I heard, “You are like stone. Be like water.”

For once, instead of dismissing what I heard with my habitual internal eye roll, I stopped and listened. Something like this is what followed:

Consider what it’s like to draw on a stone, on sand, and on water.

Of the three, the stone is the hardest, the least vulnerable. Leaving a mark on the stone is difficult. You may need to use a hammer and chisel. As a result, marks left on the stone endure for a very, very long time.

By contrast, sand offers a more cooperative medium. If you’ve been to the beach you know that, with a rake or a shovel or even a toe, you can draw all manner of things on the sand. What you draw will last for a while, but it won’t be permanent. Wind and waves will soon erase the marks you’ve made.

You can draw on water with your finger if you like, but the mark you make disappears just as soon as you make it. Water remains open to the world and receives the world’s influence even to its very depths. Water is moved, and yet it is not disfigured. Water is always moving beyond what has happened to it.

In a moment clarity, I realized that there is a different way to inhabit planet Earth. I was like stone. My identity was bound up with my habitual resentment, bitterness, and sense of alienation. My wounds were defining me.

Now I believe—I have experienced—that new life emerges from broken places. A new kind of life, not merely the next chapter of the old sort of life we had lived previously. Stone becomes water. That’s one way that I understand the resurrection.

The apostle Paul characterized the resurrection as a physical body giving way to a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44) Elsewhere, he said that in Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul had in mind both what happens to us after we die and how Jesus’s resurrection transforms our lives right here on planet Earth.

In Christ, God’s love radically transforms us. Or, more accurately, God’s love decisively restores us to our true selves: the image of God. You see, Jesus teaches us to live in this world in a way startlingly different from the usual pattern of things because that way of living resembles how God loves:

  • If someone steals your coat, give them the shirt off your back.
  • Forgive the unrepentant.
  • Love your enemy.
  • Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the shabbily dressed. Deserving has not the first thing to do with it.
  • Welcome the stranger, especially the one you think will ruin the neighborhood.

Apparently, some among the fledgling Christian community in Corinth were having a difficult time buying all of this. They couldn’t believe that the resurrection was a real thing, at least, not real enough to act on it during the work week.

I can’t really blame them. Just look at the world they inhabited. Look at the world we inhabit. It can make you wonder about this way of love that Jesus teaches.

Powerful people enrich themselves by exploiting the vulnerable. Nations are addicted to war. The luxuriously well-fed dwell alongside the desperately famished. Mass shootings occur so frequently that they disappear from the news cycle in the blink of an eye. Racial hatred still leads to oppression and violence.

But Paul was relentless. He could have taught faith alone, as if what we believed is all that matters. Or he could have told us to hope for what might happen in the afterlife. But he did more.

He told us that faith and hope are crucial, but love is the key. Love what God loves how God loves it. Now. Right here on planet Earth. That’s the love that will change each of us. That’s the love that will change this world. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Much of the world is stone-like. Honestly, on plenty of days so am I. But I have seen people who are like water. And on my best does, I have been water-like, too.

23 Comments

  1. Bless you Jake, you teach a truly transforming gospel and as hard as it is to transform to this degree, in my heart I know that your insights are spot on! Some minor edits might help in the first bullet point and the very last line. Thanks for a great lesson!

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          1. Oh, Liz! Both poems (and of course the pictures) are wonderful! Damien’s comment on your poem also captured my imagination. My mother and my maternal grandmother sewed and my father was in the garment business. You are a poet with both words and images. Alas, I will still get confused by own hemispheric distance, but now it makes me smile.

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          2. How wonderful, you’d really appreciate his analogy! Damien’s passion for poetry and his way with words has inspired my own efforts.. I never used to write. “Growing Beyond” for this girl involves embracing the creative me I never knew 🙂

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  2. Have you ever heard of A Course in Miracles? I am working through this with a group and the daily mantras are helpful guides toward being the love that God is. Inner work leads to outer work.

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  3. During a focusing exercise while Jim was sick, I saw the image of a waterfall and the bottom of the pool where the water landed was filled with large rocks. The rocks were being worn down by the pounding, roiling water–rough edges made smooth. I was the rocks.

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  4. I just discovered your blog. I think it is engaging with some very deep wisdom and Gospel truth. It connected and affirmed what I was preaching this week. Your name and some of your words (with your permission I presume?) will be used in the pulpit this week. I’ll be sharing your link as well. I have a number of parishioners who would enjoy your thoughts . Thanks again! Glenn Mahaffey

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  5. Thanks again Jake!! I always look forward to your posts. This one was especially meaningful for me, as I am definitely like stone! I’ve been holding onto resentment and bitterness for much too long, I’ll be making some phone calls tomorrow to try and correct that…Your words really do make a difference in peoples lives my friend..

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  6. So many of us have big trouble with that ‘deserving’ issue. Thank you for putting it in front of us again..and again…If deserving was part of it…we wouldn’t have much going for us….

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