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" If the world is a tree,

we are the blossoms "


Water – the Shape-Shifter

March 14th, 2016
Photo: Donald Macauley

Photo: Donald Macauley


If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

From Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings

What a great poem, but Philip Larkin isn’t being original, water has always played a huge role in religion and spirituality – think of the reverence paid to the Ganges, the Nile, the Jordan. Think of the holy wells not only in Christian and Pagan traditions, but in Islam too, where the ZamZam well in Mecca appeared miraculously to Abraham’s wife Hagar, and its water is now drunk by millions on the Haj. From the Jewish immersion rituals to Christian Baptism, from the pilgrimages made today to Chalice Well in Glastonbury or St.Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall – wells, the river, the sea, the dew drop – they are all used by mystics to invoke the sacred. Why? Water brings life, of course, and its flowing quality and sheer beauty is good enough reason. But there’s another quality of water that makes it especially suitable for helping us think about and perhaps even access the spiritual, and that comes from water’s ability to shape-shift – from steam or mist, to drops and dribbles and snow flakes, to great expanses, roaring tides, and finally – densest of all – to solid blocks of ice. None of the other classical elements of Earth, Fire or Air is able to shape-shift so subtly into so many forms, and it is this ability, I believe, that has made Water the obvious candidate for representing the Sacred, or indeed Consciousness, in matter itself, which leads us to a rather interesting and fundamental question: When it comes to Spirit and Matter, or Mind and Matter, which came first? Did Mind, Consciousness, what some people call Spirit or Soul, arise out of matter? Or the reverse? Did matter somehow emerge from Spirit?

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