There once was a man who had lived on a farm his whole life. The farm had been in the man’s family for many generations, having been built by his great, great grandfather. Over the years many changes had been made both to the farm house and to the farmland.
When large working farms became less popular plots of land were sold off for new houses meant for young couples leaving the city. This made the farmland smaller over the years, but the house seemed to grow with each new child to be born, and over through those long generations there were many children, though truth to tell, not as many lately as there once were.
Electricity was added, thanks to Mr. Edison’s invention and this helped to chase away the darkness. It also made it possible for refrigeration which made the cellar obsolete allowing that underground space to become a workshop first and finally a last resting place for the treasures no longer valued enough to be forgot in the attic. Phonographs were brought in, then radio, then television and finally satellite TV, a gift from a well-meaning but wayward daughter. The old wood floor, hand hewn and polished by caring hands was covered with carpet, then many years later the carpet was removed so the old worn floor could be seen again.
People came and went as their lives intersected on that old farmstead. But there was one thing that was always constant. That wonderful old well.
That wonderful old well was dug by hand many years before because it was needed. Water was life you understand and a good well, one that would not run dry was a matter of life and death. This wonderful old well was dug deep and it was lined with stones and the water was always cool and fresh. Even though running water had made its way to the house a long time ago people still drank from that well because it was old perhaps, and old things are novel. But also because it was dug with love and because it refreshed in a way the chlorinated, filtered city water never could. There was a purity to the water that was drawn from that old well, a purity that reminded people of things that were vanishing with the time.
Now, so I heard the story, one bright and sunny day, the old man who had walked to that well almost every day for his 67 years saw something he had never noticed before. As he peered down into the deep well to lower his bucket, he saw the sky reflected in the still, deep water below and he understood that heaven is in the well…
Heaven is in the well… What does this mean? The old man stood, staring, awestruck and his life was changed in the sort of way that promises to change the lives of others further down the line. This old man, always a Christian, the way too many Americans are Christians. Which is to say an easy sort of faith that doesn’t ask for much and doesn’t make too many demands, knew he had to tell people about this strange epiphany and he did. First his friends, then his neighbors, soon everyone he encountered heard the story of that wonderful old well. Most were amused, some were bothered and annoyed, many ignored it altogether but there were some, a precious few who in that story saw for themselves that heaven is in the well an in a small way this old man saved the lives of dozens of people who went on to save the lives of dozens more. You see, when a well is dug deep and the water is pure within it never really runs dry.
Beloved; our faith should be like that well, one dug deep in the traditions laid out by the church fathers of old be they catholic or protestant, and in honest doctrines but also the faith of simple believers, of hymn singing and camp meetings, of Sunday sermons on hot summer days and in the prayers of children beside their beds at night. There is nothing wrong with changes, with new things or even new ways, just as there was nothing wrong with the old farmhouse changing throughout the years. But there is something terribly wrong when we are so eager to ignore the traditions that brought us to where we are. There is something tragic when we lose sight of that wonderful old well.
Questions to think about:
- Why do wells as a symbol matter (consider Christian faith, but also other religions and folkways)?
- What is an experience you have had in which you found yourself drawing wisdom from old, traditional sources?
- What in your life might be improved by reaching back to a simpler time?
- Can a theology be valid if it rests on the supposition that new thought should supersedes old thought?
- How did Jesus use wells (or other communal bodies of water) in his ministry?