by Ken Rolheiser
The well as sacred metaphor 

I spent many days as a young man working on hilly prairie land in a drought riddled part of Saskatchewan. I used to gaze on a hillside where there was some indentation of brush or greenery and wonder if there was a source of water hidden under that marker of vegetation.

Most often it was just a huge rock or buffalo stone that protruded from the parched terrain. Cacti could be found on those hillsides. And that was my father’s farm, ten miles from the hamlet of Cactus Lake.

It was on one of those hills a mile west of the farm where I experienced the power of spiritual metaphor and scriptural symbolism. A spring of water trickled from the base of that hill. 

One summer, when the pasture slough dried up, we dug a well in that hillside. We hit water eventually and the spade squelched in the blue mud as the life-giving water pooled. The eternal spring! God’s power of life in nature. 

In Celtic spirituality, nature and creation hold a prominent position in
understanding how God works in this world. Human experience is rooted in ancient wisdom, a sacred understanding of God’s presence in their lives.

“We believe that in the complexities of life, nature itself speaks profoundly to God's presence in the world. We regard certain places as sacred spaces, and we call them ‘thin places.’ One such thin place or sacred space is the well because it is a source of life,” Margaret Self writes in Sacred Spaces: Stations of the Celtic Way.

“It [the well] is sacred because …one has to descend the depths of a dark, deep shaft until you reach this water of life," Margaret Self says.

This is a powerful metaphor! We have to be willing to descend this dark shaft 
before we can receive the lessons that life will give to us. Sometimes the best and the biggest lessons we have received in our lives are at those times that are often preceded by the darkest times in our lives. 

Sometimes it seems we have to hit the rock bottom of our lives before we get to that water. It often seems that at these darkest moments we learn life’s lessons and growth occurs.

In Margaret Self’s Celtic spirituality we must continue to dive deep down into the shaft of this well until we reach the water, but we do not go alone. The bucket and the rope are symbols that Christ descends into that dark place for us; and the rope is Holy Spirit that connects us to Christ.
Christ goes into the depths with us to reach the very water of life. We must work to allow that Holy Spirit to bring that gift to us, that water of life that will bring the lesson of freshness. And then from the darkness of the well comes light and life.

Of Self’s metaphor of the well, Father Brendan McGuire says: There are times when darkness comes in on our lives. Someone dies suddenly or is suffering endlessly in pain; or we ourselves are in a period of difficulty, feeling dark or isolated.
That is why we come together each Sunday; to receive strength in the faith of others, and to receive that freshness, that newness of life.

“As we leave [church]”, McGuire says, “we put our hands into the water and bless ourselves Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” We choose to live in Christ!

(580 words)