The Spring of Living Water (A Parable)
There was once a vast, rocky wilderness, void of all vegetation but the hardiest thorns and briers. Through the middle of the desert stretched a rough highway along which the whole of humanity was making its pilgrimage. They straggled along footsore and thirsty; tired, and frightened by a myriad of nameless fears.
But at one point along the way a clear spring of running water bubbled up out of a naked rock. No one knows who first discovered it; that secret had long been lost. Yet for countless generations the people journeying along the road stopped to refresh themselves there. And as they did so they found to their surprise and delight that the waters not only slaked their thirst, but satisfied deeper needs as well. Somehow in drinking at that source they found their minds and bodies healed, their hopes and courage growing strong again. Life became rich with fresh meaning. They found that they could pick up their various burdens and take to the way once more with new hearts. They called the place the “place of living waters” and the spring itself the “water of life.”
Now as time went on various people began to roll up boulders around the spring as monuments of gratitude. As the generations and centuries passed these monuments became more elaborate and ornate, until the spring at last was totally enclosed, arched over by a great fortress-like cathedral and protected by high stone walls. A special caste of men, with special robes and a language all their own, came into being to set rules for preserving the purity of the well. Access was no longer free to all and the disagreements about who could drink there, and when, and how, sometimes grew so bitter that wars were fought over them.
The victors always put up more monuments and safeguards in gratitude for winning. And so it was that, as the years rolled by, the spring itself was bricked over and lost from view. No one remembered when exactly it was done or by whom. But when the pilgrims complained about the loss, and many were found fainting or near death on the road, those now in charge either mocked their cries or simply ignored them. Beautiful ceremonies were carried out inside the holy place to celebrate what the well had done for pilgrims many years before, while at the very gates people were dying of thirst.
Eventually other water was piped in at great expense from distant places, but it seemed a mere shadow of the reality that once had been there for all to enjoy. From time to time strange men came in from the wilderness saying that those who guarded the ancient well should “repent” and tear away all the obstructions so that the masses might drink and be restored. Later they would be called prophets and honored in the shrine, but at the moment of their protest they were rejected. Indeed, many were put to death.
So in the end the vast majority of people who journeyed along that route avoided the now sacred “place of living waters” and survived whatever way they could. Many, when they passed the shrine and recalled the stories they had heard in their youth about the hidden spring were seized with nostalgia and longings too deep to utter. Others struggled on, embittered by cynical doubt that the healing waters had ever existed. But sometimes in the night, when all the chanting and ceremonies were stilled, those few pilgrims who stole into the shrine to rest for a moment in some corner out of sight were sure they could hear an almost miraculous sound. From somewhere deep under the foundations of the great rock structure there came the faint echo of running water, and their eyes would brim with tears.