Advent Practices: Water's Wisdom

The bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. ~ Thomas Merton

For this third week of Advent I invite you to consider the element of water as an inspiration for your prayer and a way to grow in intimacy with creation. The first reading for this week is from Isaiah and celebrates water's life-giving qualities: "The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song."

Hildegard of Bingen coined the term viriditas to describe the "greening power of God." She applies this word to the moistness of the earth as well as the soul.  The natural world is not simply inert, but filled with life and power. Hildegard writes that "earth wears her green vigor." Her emphasis on greenness symbolizes the inner dynamism of life in all its burgeoning growth, vibrancy, freshness, and fecundity as emanating from the life-creating power of God. It expresses her conviction of God as the source, sustainer, and energizer of all life. We are called in this season to tend to the places in our own lives where we need to invite in greater greenness and life-giving waters to nourish us.

During Advent, our anticipation over the new birth coming from the ancient womb of creation may be trying our patience as we enter the third week of waiting. Yet the call is to patience, to honor the slow unfolding of creation and of our own lives. "Be patient, brothers and sisters" writes James in the second reading this week. Rather than force life into our own plans and expectations, can we remain open-hearted, and listen for the invitation of water's gifts to us? The process of birthing takes nine long months in the sacred holding space of the womb's water. Where are we tempted to rush things in our own lives that require still more tending, more waiting, and more patience?

In Cherokee tradition, water is associated with the season of autumn and the hour of dusk. Autumn and dusk call us to become aware of the movement toward endings in our lives. Water invites us to enter life's flow and to honor the cycles and rhythms of life. In the northern hemisphere as the darkness continues to grow we are also invited to become present to our own mortality. The element of water reminds us to honor our own rhythms of rising and falling and in this coming season to allow time for rest and hibernation.

There is a story from the Russian Orthodox tradition where a young man goes to Fr. Seraphim to learn how to pray. He is sent out to the ocean to learn the wisdom of ebbing and flowing. He learns to synchronize his breath with the "great breathing rhythm of the waves." As he floats on the sea he also discovers the great calmness of the sea below its undulating surface and he learns to hold awareness of his own distinct self without being carried away by the rhythm of breathing.

This week let the element of water offer wisdom for your journey. Listen for how the presence of the sacred is pulsing through this divine gift and the flow of your life.

Practices for Advent

  • Water calls us to tend to our own natural rhythms. See if you can allow yourself one day, or even an afternoon, during the Advent season where you simply listen to the rise and fall of your energy and desires. What happens when you eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, and walk when your body longs for movement? What gifts might await you if you allow your life to have its own flow? In our world of 24-hour illumination and productivity we forget the call of our bodies and responding to their needs. Instead of drinking another cup of coffee to stay awake, try sinking into a long nap. Instead of a quick energy bar to stave off hunger, consider making time to lovingly prepare a meal from scratch.
  • Clean water is a tremendous gift we often take for granted in the first world. As you shower each morning, offer a prayer of exuberant gratitude. When you drink a glass of water throughout the day, allow it to be an act of self-blessing and remember those who don't have access to clean water. Remember that water hydrates and sustains you so you might offer your gifts back in service to the world. Consider making a donation to support access to clean water in poor communities around the world.
  • If you have an altar for Advent, consider placing a shell or bowl of water there as a reminder to honor water's gifts. 
  • Pray with the passage from Isaiah mentioned at the beginning of this article. Read it slowly, listening for the invitation arising from its images. What awareness or action is creation calling you toward this week?

Return next Wednesday for more Advent spiritual practices in the new column, Seasons of the Soul, at the Mainline Protestant Portal at Patheos.