The Practice of Carrying Water {Book Club}

I’m sitting here, hands folded under my chin, not sure where to start.

Knowing that if we were in person, we probably wouldn’t start with words at all. We’d start with nods and smiles at each other.

Photo on 12-5-14 at 3.56 PM 

For what seems like the 500th time in reading An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, the practice of carrying water is not unfamiliar to us. Which is an awkward way of saying, “Girl, we KNOW.” You know what it’s like, right? When a group of cross-cultural workers get together and the stories start flowing. 

Remember when we didn’t have running water for four days?

Or that time I had to kill two mice stuck on sticky paper before I could go to the bathroom?

Or how about when my husband’s vasectomy at the local hospital didn’t work? 

Or when I bought apples for the first time by myself?

Remember when we were asked to do THIS or THAT? And how much longer it took? And how I thought I might hit that person?

We know how to carry water. Oh yes we do. What we might need to work on is not trying to out-do each other in the water we’ve carried. How is it sharing stories can turn into one-upmanship both quickly and insidiously?

Paradoxically, we don’t honor the water we’ve carried for the holy work it is.

“If all life is holy, then anything that sustains life has holy dimensions too. The difference between washing windows and resting in God can be a simple decision: choose the work, and it becomes your spiritual practice. Spraying vinegar and water on the panes, you baptize the glass. Rubbing away the film, repent ye of your sins. Polishing the glass, you let in the light. No task is too menial to serve as a path. If you are able to sustain other lives along with your own, then all the better.”

Whhhhhhhhhhhh

Life is breathed into the very heart of my life, of our lives. I loved her phrase “divine CPR.” What if we were able to see all of the water we carry as holy water? The fact that I can only buy as much as I can carry can now also remind me of the Psalms of ascent. lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from?

*****

I wonder if it would be a stretch to tie in this week’s theme. Almost in the sense of, “You better rejoice or else. Do you know how many people are supporting you? Do you know how many people would be glad if they had X, Y, or Z?” But that’s not the message of the gospel? Is it? Christ didn’t come so that we could trudge through life doing good things for him. Will there be some trudging times? Sure.

But he came that we might have life! Part of having life is carrying water. Offering up our daily lives as holy works. Not with an eye to competition with one another, but connection with Him who came to give life to us earthlings :).

What’s one of your daily tasks that can be turned into a spiritual practice? I’d love to hear your creative ideas!

Over to you :). What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred? Any points you disagree with? You know my mantra, disagreements welcome too! This book is a place to start the discussion, not to end it.

Amy, a fellow water carrying dust-creature

P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of  Feeling Pain

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Photo Credit: . Entrer dans le rêve via Compfight cc

11 Comments

  1. mary beth j December 8, 2014

    Amy! First of all, I miss that face sitting across the table from me three times a semester.

    Second: “I wonder if it would be a stretch to tie in this week’s theme. Almost in the sense of, “You better rejoice or else. Do you know how many people are supporting you? Do you know how many people would be glad if they had X, Y, or Z?” But that’s not the message of the gospel? Is it? Christ didn’t come so that we could trudge through life doing good things for him. Will there be some trudging times? Sure.
    But he came that we might have life! Part of having life is carrying water. Offering up our daily lives as holy works. Not with an eye to competition with one another, but connection with Him who came to give life to us earthlings.”
    Yes, yes, and yes. I wish i had known this my first year but HEY i got to learn it! Great words.

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2014

      MB, I’d carry water with you any day. You challenge me and invite me to be a better, more true, version of myself. You call forth the deep in me and I’m grateful for you and for ways like this to stay in contact. I miss you. I really don’t like how this life God has invited me/us into living far apart from so many lovely people.

  2. Elizabeth December 9, 2014

    “What we might need to work on is not trying to out-do each other in the water we’ve carried.” Brilliant, Amy! I think that is a definite problem for all people, but unfortunately, especially for people overseas :/

    Most of all, I loved the section that starts “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” I love the discussion about humans not as men and women but as “earthlings,” people made from the stuff of the earth. I’m a science lover, so this part of the creation story really sticks with me. I read a book about elements once that showed pictorially that, almost without exception, the proportion of elements in the crust of the earth mirrors the proportion of elements in our human bodies. This proved, said the author, that humans arose from earth and were not seeded by aliens.

    After I finished laughing about his assertion, I sat in wonder of the truth that science and the Bible give us the same story. For in the very beginning of Genesis, God tells us he fashioned us from dirt. Centuries later, our modern science would confirm it: we are made of the very same stuff the earth is made of. For some strange reason this gives me comfort. And awe.

    Have you ever read this Christmas-y poem by Brian Wren? My husband went to an Advent morning retreat last weekend (sponsored by Living Well, a new counseling center in our city!), and came home with this poem, among others. Something draws me to this poem, and I don’t even know why, because some of the language is uncomfortable. But I still love the phrase “Good is the flesh that the Word has become.”

    “Good is the flesh that the Word has become,
    good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
    good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
    good is the body for knowing the world,
    Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

    Good is the body for knowing the world,
    sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
    feeling, perceiving, within and around,
    good is the body, from cradle to grave,
    Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

    Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
    growing and aging, arousing, impaired,
    happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
    good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
    Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

    Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
    longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
    glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
    good is the body, for good and for God,
    Good is the flesh that the Word has become.”

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2014

      Elizabeth, I loved the earthling/dust-people bit too. I’m feeling rather pedantic in my word choice, so I can’t quite express how or why it touched me. The closest I can come is “poetic and smudgy” — I loved the way it made my soul soar and expand beyond the limits of my body, yet, there was a smudgy-ness to it, anchoring me in, well, dirt :).

      Thanks for sharing the poem. I have this sensation I’ve read it before, but no concrete memories. Oh well.  Wait, something is trying to come back to me. Am I singing it? And feeling uncomfortable at parts? I think singing about breasts? It won’t come closer. Anyone? Is this also a song?

      Like you, love the line: “Good is the flesh the word has become.” The older I get, the more my theology is softening toward what worms we are. We are worms. But we are made in the image of God! And as you said,  there are properties of earth in us (and I’ve heard star dust too).

      So amazing really. What we are. Whose we are. How loved we are.

       

  3. Jenny December 9, 2014

    This chapter was indeed oh-so-familiar in how life overseas has been and I chuckled heartily at your honest observation, Amy, of how we try to outdo each other in the ways we’ve logistically suffered.  Far too true.  And even though I expected (and experienced) such trials in our life in India, romanticizing it a bit or at least finding meaning in those filthy hardships did help.  It seemed to take me forever to find God in those times and I think this chapter might have led my heart on a shorter path.  And to relive some of those times without power and water and remember when God did meet me in my weakness and humanness did my heart good this week.

    I long to practice this more faithfully: “Sometimes the work comes attached to an ice storm, offering you little choice but to freeze or to cope.  Other times it presents itself to you as drudgery, which you may turn into soul work by choosing the labor instead of resenting it.”

     

     

    1. Amy Young December 10, 2014

      Romanticizing :). Yes, I get that. I never felt closer to Laura Ingalls or my grandparents than my first few winters in China. It was like stepping back into their childhoods with very scary coal heaters and no running hot water and people with actual chilblains (what?! They weren’t just in British novels? Your poor ears! The cracks, and your hands. I’m so so sorry!). The romanticizing also reminded me how very Unromantic parts of those lives were! (Can I also admit I’ve not read the Laura Ingalls books, but I loved the TV show).

    1. laura r December 16, 2014

      Wow!  That Spugeon quote is so great!

  4. laura r December 16, 2014

    This chapter… it kept me up at night. So, as I often do when that happens I gave myself some time to be restless in hopes of falling asleep and when that didn’t happen I got up and spent some time in prayer and with my journal.  About 7 pages later I feel like I’ve begun to work some of this out as it applies to me personally.

    First of all, Amy, this line hit me smack dab between the eyes,  “Paradoxically, we don’t honor the water we’ve carried for the holy work it is.”  As I reflect on my life overseas this quote brings me a sense of grief… it’s true I didn’t always honour the water I carried as holy work.  Furthermore, I think that this is a bit of an easy place to default to in the midst of the ‘ice storm’ moments of labour, when we find ourselves trying to simply survive.

    This season is one of me learning to carry a different type of water than I am used to… I have seen a role change  and I’m learning to lean into it but, honestly, I haven’t always seen it for the holy work that it is.  Lord, have mercy.

    I appreciated the final section of the chapter – “Life offers no shortage of opportunities to engage physical labour,  Sometimes the work comes attached to an ice storm, offering you little choice but to freeze or cope.  Other times it presents itself in drudgery, which you may turn into soul work by choosing the labour instead of resenting it.”  I had a bit of an AHA moment when I was writing this quote out- I have just come through 5 years of the ice storm kind of labour, albeit in a tropical country, and now life holds for me the nitty gritty mundane life.  A seemingly never-ending, often cyclical season of drudgery type labour.  I want to choose the labour instead of resenting it.  Lord, have mercy.

     

    And… just to add a bit of a different dimension to what I took away from this chapter… Upon reflection, I realized that, for me, I have also been over emphasizing the water carrying thus forgetting to engage in other spiritual practices that hold their own lessons and beauty.  For me, I have been neglecting the practice of walking on the earth.  It’s ‘cold’ outside and I have ‘so much’ to do inside that I simply stopped going outside into creation .  I started driving everywhere, even if it was 2 blocks away and was afraid of the cold.  So… for this week, I have committed to adding other practices into my life again.  To focus on the holy in all that I do and to make sure I’m interacting with creation – when I lived on the other side of the world, I missed the snow and the utter clarity that there is during the winter and I am choosing not to hide from it.  I may get cold, I may slip on the ice but I want to be present in what this season in this place offers me.  To respond to the question asked in chapter 4, “Where do you want to be in life?”  by “…look[ing] down at [my] feet and say[ing], ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Amy Young December 16, 2014

      Laura, as I read this I felt I was unwrapping a precious gift. So much to ponder on. Your AHA moment, was an AHA moment for me too. There is often clarity in the “ice storms,” isn’t there? and less so in the choosing when the work / water carrying is drudgery.

      I know your words are ones I’ll return to in the days ahead. Thank you.

    2. Jenny December 18, 2014

      Laura, thank you for sharing your heart, and through that opening my eyes to similar things.

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