Living water

May 5th, 2006 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Lyric FM, Ireland‘s excellent classical music station, had a feature on hawthorns this morning, included in the item was mention of the fairy thorns.

It got me thinking about what of our traditions find a place in the Bible, fairy thorns don’t appear, but another Irish tradition; that of holy wells, does find a place. Wells had a sacred place in the thinking of the people of Israel. In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel there is the encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman says that the well had been given to her people by Jacob.

Holy wells have had a similar place in Irish religious tradition; certain wells are thought to have been associated with certain saints. There is a great pagan tradition that survives in the pilgrimages to the holy wells. Pagan is not meant as a pejorative term, simply it is to make the point that the traditions associated with the wells are pre-Christian and I suspect that the associations now made with particular saints were probably made with pre-Christian figures before the Church came and took over all of the traditions for itself.

The significance for all of these wells, whether it Jacob’s well in the story of the Samaritan woman, or the holy wells of Ireland; is the water they contain. We in the church tend to confuse the well with the water.

Jesus talks about is himself as living water in his conversation with the woman. The well, or the spring, through which most people encountered this living water was the church, but is that still the case?

When I was young and living on my Granddad’s farm wells always had a fascination for me. We had no mains water and the water for both the houses and the farm came from a number of wells that were dotted around the land. At the dwelling house there was an electric pump but elsewhere it was not so easy. I remember my uncles in the evenings drawing water for cattle troughs about a half a mile from the main farm. It was incredibly hard work with a rope and bucket, throwing the bucket down and then pulling it up hand over hand.

Eventually at some point, after my part of the family had moved away, some official from some department declared that the water was not good and the bill for connection to the mains had to be paid. Wells that had provided water for generations were covered over. Certainly, of at least one of them, there is no longer any trace.

I wonder sometimes if the church become like a redundant well? When people come along to my church on Sundays do they find Living Water or dry bricks?

Leave Comment