Sunday, 11 January 2015

Spiritual landscaping -

In the previous post we considered the baptism of Christ and how the waters of baptism are not simply the sacrament of being saved from something; they are also the sacrament of being saved for something. As to how that happens we need to consider the imagery Jesus used about the Holy Spirit within us.  What follows is intended as a meditation, so give yourself time to think about each section:

John 4:13-15
Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

There is something special about water. Whichever way we look at it, it is essential for life. We all average out at being made up of about 65% water. But what I'm interested in, in spiritual terms, is how that living water that Jesus refers to affects us. And if water in the real world can affect the landscape, then what can living water do to our internal landscape as it bubbles up?

So let's consider some water landscaping.

Consider a canyon – maybe the Grand Canyon. Most people believe that it was shaped by millennia of carving by the Colorado River, leading to this most immense scar across the earth's surface. At face value we could be tempted to liken this to the action of the Spirit of God within us across our lives, and maybe even across the generations of a family, shaping and moulding us.

But there is another way of considering this. The arid nature of the land means that the plants that exist there have shallow roots, able to grasp surface water across a wide area when it arrives, but deep roots would be pointless because of the way in which the water never penetrates. The consequence of this is that the plants don't hold the land together very tightly.

This means that when it rains, there is a potential for rapid re-shaping of the landscape because there is little holding it in place. It's ready for change.

Consider whether this may be you. It may feel as if your spiritual landscape has been arid for some time. Those things which keep you going come sparsely, so perhaps your internal landscape is ready for change, for the water which bubbles up within to carry away the dross and rubble and reshape those parts which are parched.

This is a way in which the bubbling water of the Spirit can effect a very rapid change in who a person is. I'll suggest two other ways in which water affects the landscape in a moment, but first take a minute or two of silent imagination. Is this how you feel?  Is your internal landscape ready for a rapid change?


But sometime the landscaping takes far longer and is far more extensive and long lasting.

Imagine the shape of a mountain, but I'm not thinking of any old mountain. Instead I am thinking of the highlands of Scotland, and perhaps specifically of the Ben Nevis range. These mountains are not like our classical Walt Disney style, but instead resemble great chunks of land that have been pushed up from one side.

That means they have a sheer drop on the side they were pushed up but more gentle slopes on the opposite sides. And what makes them is once again water, but this time water as ice; water as a glacier. Here the water has moved slowly but with great power, gradually effecting a colossal change in the landscape by simply pushing hard and in a sustained way.

And maybe this is how you can see the Spirit within you; gradually, maybe imperceptibly pushing you and reshaping you. Who you are now is as a result of having been moved by a lengthy and sustained process.

And maybe you're happy with that, but maybe you aren't. Maybe the pushing and pushing has been uncomfortable and the shape that you feel you now adopt simply feels strange and misshapen, not because you are but because when you look back at who you used to be, you're not sure how you moved from that person to who you are now.

Maybe that work of the Spirit within you needs another work, of helping you to accept as someone who has been transformed by God's Spirit, but now needs to be accepted and loved as who you have become.

Keep silence again to consider the implications of long term pushing and shoving by the Spirit.


A third type of landscaping by the Spirit is the one where we get involved as soon as we see changes coming, and because we're scared of the changes we do something rather curious. As the water of life bubbles up and starts to change us, so we get cold feet. And so we build some pipes to contain the flow of water and to direct it so that it goes where we want it to go and does what we want it to do.

And so the landscape remains rather unchanged. Rather than the water of life bubbling over us and making everything different and messy, we have tried to take control and channel the Spirit into the places where we feel safe, just into the services on Sunday and the one or two things we feel most at ease with doing.

But maybe here the effect has been that our spiritual temperature is dropping. We don't feel like we're going anywhere, and there is a good reason for that; our desire for control. But then maybe we need the drop in spiritual temperature, because we all know that water pipes don't do so well when the temperature drops.

They freeze and then they fracture, and then the water goes where it wants rather than where we want it, and we are reshaped in a way outside of our control. So maybe that's you; the one who wants too much control over the Water of Life when maybe She's saying to you, 'Let me flow where I will flow and landscape what I must landscape.'

So again, keep some imaginative silence to consider what may be spiritual reticence on your part to be swamped by the water of life.


There are many possible ways in which we can respond to the Spirit bubbling up within, but these are three of them; the arid landscape waiting to be reshaped; the internal landscape that has been pushed and pulled by the Spirit leaving you unsure of how you got here; and there's the controlled lifestyle that needs frozen pipes to burst so that you can be flooded with holy bubbling water.

You may wish to let your imagination run riot and think of some other ways that water reshapes a landscape and how that may be mirrored within.  This is a place of honesty.  The Living Water that bubbles up within brings change.  In some Christian traditions we are pressured into being overjoyed by this, and maybe (hopefully) sometimes we are.  But also there can be times when actually we struggle with what She does within us.  It's important for the sake of the journey, the reshaping, that we communicate with God how we actually feel about this. 

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