I’ve just come back from a two-day retreat, which had the theme: Through the cracks, the light gets in. (The blurb ran like this: While society tells us that our cracks are a sign of weakness and imperfection, our faith story actually tells us something quite different. Come along and make some space to look at the cracks in your own life, ponder them and the possibility of God’s healing and transforming presence in the midst of our humanity).
As is so often the way with these things, there were a couple of things which I have brought away from that time which spoke to me powerfully when I encountered them, and which I suspect might be very useful to return to and reflect on over time, and so I’m going to share them with you in this post and the next.
The first thing was a story told by the 13th century Muslim mystic and poet, Rumi. Although his stories are very much of his own tradition, this one seemed to me to have enormous potential for connection with the Christian understanding as well. The translation I was offered runs thus:
The Thirsty Man Who Threw Bricks
On the bank of a stream stood a high wall, and on top of the wall sat a sad, thirsty man. The wall prevented him from reaching the river, and he was desperately thirsty, like a fish.
Without warning, he suddenly threw a brick into the water, and the sound of the splash reached his ears like words spoken by a sweet and delicious friend, making him drunk as though it was wine instead of water. So touched was he by these sounds that he began tearing the bricks from the wall, but then the water started to complain about having a brick thrown at it.
The thirsty man told the water, “I have two reasons for not stopping my destruction of the wall; the first is the sound of the water.
The sound is like an angel’s trump,
a sound that brings back life.
Or like the noise of a thundering spring,
from which the garden grows its flowers,
and other wondrous things.
Or for the poor, the days of alms,
or freedom from a gaol.
It’s like the breath of God Himself,
a gift to every sinner.
Or like the scent of grace that strikes upon the soul.
And the other advantage I get from tearing off the bricks from this wall is that with every brick I get nearer to the running water. With each brick I remove, the wall gets lower.
My destruction of the wall is remedy enough,
to bring me in union with the water.
The splitting of the bond is true to my prayers,
bringing me to God, in just the way that He
has told me to draw near.
So long as this wall remains lofty and proud
it stays an obstacle to my bowing head.
I cannot gain deliverance from the body of earth
till I prostrate myself on the Water of Life.
The greater the thirst atop this wall,
the quicker the bricks must be ripped.
The more love for the sound of water,
the greater tearing of the bonds before it.
Drunk is he that hears the rush,
while he that fails hears only the splash.”
So many questions for reflection are raised here. About the thirst of our souls; my thirst, your thirst, the thirsts of the church and of the world. What are they, and how can they be met?
(Perhaps this story would have struck me less if I had not, before I found it, been reflecting on Psalm 69:21, which says that “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”)
And about the walls, where and what they are, and what it might look like to tear them down.
I’d be very interested in your thoughts, too!