“Such a lovely ‘beholding’ today! I went to the well – and it was uncovered for me to look down. Instead of the still circle of water I expected to see, it was all heaving and rippling in swelling circles! Then it stopped and grew quiet, and while I was wondering if my eyes could have deceived me, the trembling began and all was repeated. Some periodic up-burst from the hidden spring below – than all grew glassy again. I never knew before what the ‘well of water springing up’ meant. I thought of it vaguely as a springing all the time. But this is so much more like His way with our souls. A sudden rising and flooding of the underlying life – and then a sinking back with stillness.” 15 June 1909
The immediate context for this “Parable of The Well Water” was, in fact, as much a “Parable of Faith.” The site of a native mission house in the village of Blida was decided by the location of a potential well as determined by a “water diviner.” Having dug to a depth of fifty meters without striking water, the so-call “expert” suggested that water course had been diverted by earthquake activity. The local people read more into this: “Why does not God give you water, if He is pleased with you?” Lilias was convinced that this was a test of faith and that they should proceed as planned. Weeks passed without reaching water and the diggers, at last, abandoned the site.
The very next day, Lilias received a telegram reporting that the first trickle of water had begun – gradually filling the well! Later, Lilias visited Blida and the mouth of the well was uncovered so that she could see the water within. She was startled, initially, by her observation of water “heaving and rippling in swelling circles” followed by a quieting to a “still circle of water.” She watched as a pattern emerged: “Some periodic up-burst from the hidden spring below – then all grew glassy again.”
This natural phenomena evoked a spiritual parallel: “I never knew before what the ‘well of water springing up’ meant. I thought of it vaguely as a springing all the time. But it is so much more like His way with our souls. A sudden rising and flooding of the underlying life – and then a sinking back with stillness.” Just as the certainty of water is constant, one’s experience of the same is in continual flux – sometimes “heaving and rippling;” sometimes “a still circle.” And so it is with our souls. . . .
The water in the well merely gave a picture of a reality that Lilias experienced over and over in her walk of faith. But perhaps never so poignantly as in the fall of 1897. Lilias was returning to Algiers from England, after a period of prolonged drought of the soul. With “storm clouds” gathering over their work in a worsening political climate for all things English, she felt as if she prayed to “skies of brass.” Then, on the train south through France, while reading her Bible, she received what she believed to be a promise from God: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come ‘to His Temple.'”
What follows is limited by this brief account but she records “such an unbelievable sense of light and sweetness and of the thirst of all those days being quenched in Himself.” Her experience translated into a similar “blessing” not only for those who worked alongside her in Algiers but for many along the coast of North Africa who came by invitation for “four days with God.” Hearts were softened and changed, relationships healed and restored: “. . . heaving and rippling in swelling circles.” People returned to their respective locations with hearts bursting with joy and spirits anticipating the next thing.
None more than Lilias, however. In her first diary entry of 1898 she wrote, “The New Year is dawning full of hope and wondering for what it holds in store.” Three months later came the poignant entry, “Has that wave of blessing lost its impetus? Sometimes I feel that it has. . . There is blessing still, but looking round one feels that something has gone.” “. . . a sinking back with stillness.”
She examined her soul for some grievance of her own that might have blocked the blessing but, in the end concluded, “I am coming to see that our own ‘experience’ (i.e. still vs. active waters) so far, as a conscious emotional thing matters nothing, if He is free in His working all round.”
Lilias’ summing up of the varying experiences of faith speaks straight to my heart. I must admit that I am an experience-seeking pilgrim. I yearn, even barter, for the rippling waters to verify and validate my faith. My reality, in contrast, has been that there is not a thing I can do to induce a display of Divine waterworks. I console myself: If Lilias with her mature spirituality couldn’t curry favor with God, manifest in sustained emotion, then there is little hope that my pleading and praying would be the determinate factor! Furthermore, my bubbly water experiences are not only few and far between but, if I’m completely honest, utterly without circumstantial merit or predictable pattern. Often, they come when I have least expected it – neither seeking nor deserving.
What, then, do I conclude about “God’s way with our souls?” The source of water is constant, regardless of one’s experience of the same. God is the source of the deep hidden spring, satisfying the parched hearts of those who drink from the living water. Little does it matter how I experience that water as long as I drink freely from the well that never runs dry.
There may be those memorable occasions when the waters heave and ripple in swelling circles. Grace. To which the appropriate response is “thank you” not “why not more often?” God knows when and where and why we might need the “periodic up-burst from the hidden spring below.” In the meanwhile we trust Him for our experience of faith as well as the reality of His Presence. At the end of the day, it is not how I (or, for that matter, anyone else) perceives the water. It is simply receiving the life-giving, thirst quenching waters of Him who said: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:14
“All my springs are in you.”
Painting: Diary 1909