Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 12) transports me to the day the folks from Clearwater Well Drilling came out to our house site to drill our well. That’s always an anxious time for folks building a house. You can’t be 100% sure they’ll find water, and if they do, how far they’ll have to drill to find it and how bold the flow will be. It was about this time I was reading Wilma Dykeman’s classic book The French Broad, and was fascinated to learn about the relationship between the health of forests and the health of rivers, and how the forests help create the porous, spongy earth that allows rainwater to soak in and reach the underground aquifers. Sifting down through thick humus into this web of roots and veins, rain water is stored and finds its way with gradual steadiness into the springs and streams that water its countryside, Dykeman writes. So, as I sat there watching the Clearwater folks do their work, I imagined their drills reaching down into an underground river. I pictured that river winding its way through these mountains, slowly – much slower than its above-ground counterpart – but just as surely, re-supplied by jet streams that bring evaporated water here from who knows where. The image reminds me that my well does not really belong to me, in terms of property rights. I am tapping into a resource shared by my neighbors, and how I use or misuse this resource affects them. I suspect this is at the root of an idea floated around our county for putting meters on private wells, an idea greatly resisted by property rights activists. And I suspect that their resistance is rooted in the misunderstanding of where well-water comes from, from the illusion that it’s one’s own private pool, confined to one’s own property.
I imagine the prophet Isaiah would have loved Wilma Dykeman’s book, given his symbolic use of rivers and streams and wells throughout his prophecy. Here in today’s Passage, he encourages a suffering and oppressed people, parched and thirsty in spirit, with words of hope: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. The plural wells is interesting. Perhaps, as some scholars say, the prophet was speaking to salvation as an individual experience, so there were as many wells as there were individuals. Or perhaps, as other scholars say, Isaiah was speaking to a community that was on a journey through a barren land, and they would need wells all along the way. Or perhaps, and I lean toward this understanding, the prophet understood what Wilma Dykeman and others teach us about aquifers and wells – that what appears to be a singular source above ground is actually tapping into a common source underground. The well is located in a particular time and place, but it is drawing from a common river flowing steadily deep underground. The human enterprise of creating propositions and rituals and liturgies and theologies and practices of faith is essentially a well-drilling activity.
There are many Clearwaters around doing this work. There are many thousands of denominations and faiths, all drilling down to tap into an aquifer of salvation that none of us can claim to privately own. The river is the same, even if the wells are various and sundry. The prophet’s words, then, encouraging us to draw from the wells of salvation, become a call for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and relationship building, as we learn to draw from our neighbor’s wells, along with our own. And we discover the same water, the water of salvation. It’s interesting that the root of the Hebrew word salvation, yasha, literally means to be wide, to be open. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, in those streams of mercy never ceasing that call for songs of loudest praise. It’s why Jesus told the woman that it didn’t matter which mountain was the center of worship. What was flowing beneath both mountains was the important thing. Yasha, wide open salvation. It’s the original Broad River.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.