Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4: 13-14
A great many cultures and faiths in the world have placed very important focus on water. Water is cooling, it is cleansing and it nourishes our earth. In Christianity water symbolizes the washing away of sins and the start of a new life through our rite of baptism. In Buddhism it is sprinkled over the heads of devotees as a sign of blessing. In the Mekong Region of Asia it plays a very significant role in celebrating the Lunar New Year and a welcome to the end of the dry season.
During a recent visit to Vietnam, a young Vietnamese friend introduced me to another important role water can play in our lives. He pointed out that every pagoda, temple or important ancient building we were visiting had a carefully designed pool of water directly in front of it. In this pool, usually filled with blooming lotus flowers, the reflection of the pagoda, temple or house could easily be seen from almost any position. My friend asked me if I knew why these pools were situated immediately in front of the building and when I indicated my ignorance, he explained.
In Vietnam, water plays many important roles, but one very important role is to symbolize wisdom. When we view the building or lotus and its reflection in the pool, we are reminded of the importance of wisdom. This concept comes from the very old Oriental philosophy of the Yen and Yang, or opposites. According to the philosophy, everything has opposites – cold and hot, young and old, sweet and sour, etc. The reflection in the pool reminds us that everything we do, or every issue we face does not just have one side, but has its opposite. If we keep our minds calm and focused, we can see the image and its reflection clearly, but if we throw a stone in the water and stir it up, the reflected image disappears and we see only half of the issue.
When we are confronted with an issue which we disagree with and we allow ourselves to become frustrated, angry or stressed, like tossing a stone into the pool, we lose sight of the reflected portion of the issue and will see only one side. This is the root of fundamentalism, arrogance and close-mindedness. However, if we calm ourselves, set aside our prejudices, stereotypes and biases, the reflected portion will emerge clearly and we will see the two sides of the issue. This gives us opportunity to reflect more deeply on the issue and find deeper truths. This, according to Vietnamese belief, is a sign of great wisdom. The pool in front of every important building is a constant reminder to people passing by that we must calm our minds and our spirits in order to see life more deeply and recognize that it is filled with opposites, neither of which is completely right or wrong. When we can do this, we will be able to listen deeply to others, respect their ideas and, together and then, seek a more just solution to the issue. This is a sign of true wisdom.
Our society now faces many divisive issues. Each issue has its opposites – gun control versus pro-gun, pro-life versus pro-choice, same sex marriage versus the traditional family. The arguments on both sides are often fierce and contentious creating an every growing polarization of our society. There seems to be very little deep listening or respect for the other. The water is agitated and the reflection is gone. Each side sees only one perspective and they refuse to listen to or respect their sister or brother who has a different experience or perspective. Few people recognize the yen and yang of the issues. We all need to be reminded that now, more than ever, we need wisdom. We need to calm our hearts and allow the reflection of the issue to re-emerge so we can understand it more fully and together find healthy and healing solutions.
James says it this way:
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
James 3:16-18 (The Message)