Living Water or Cisterns

Living water, or life-giving water is infinitely attractive.  Witness the recent proliferation of bottled water that has become big business in America.  Only a couple decades ago, people were content to drink water directly from the tap, but since that time, America has undergone a water revolution of sorts.

I remember when I first came back to the States after living for a while overseas. Where I was living, even the locals didn’t drink the water without first boiling it and/or running it through a series of filters that blocked everything from heavy metals to deadly bacteria. I’ll never forget returning Stateside, and noticing home after home with  water filters attached to kitchen faucets.  Then I noticed a proliferation of bottled water, something I always thought a waste of money, before I was in a location where bottled water was the safest stuff to drink.

living water

Most recently, companies have been adding all sorts of flavors, vitamins, healthy stuff, and possibly some not-so-healthy stuff, too.


Water: The Elixir of Life

We have a thing for running water. We love fountains, waterfalls, bubbling brooks, even to the point of bringing them indoors. The sound of dribbling water has a calming effect, well, unless it makes you need to go the the bathroom, but even that denotes the relaxation caused by running water.  A military man once advised me to make for a lakeside community if there was trouble in the place I was living. “People are friendlier when they live near water,” he said. “They will be more likely to help you.”

Perhaps it’s because our bodies are largely made up of water. Maybe it’s been burned into our psyche since time immemorial that we can’t live without water. Or, maybe it’s because even on a subconscious level, we recognize a spiritual connection with water, especially moving water.  Whatever the reason, there is a strong inner connection between moving water and our spirituality. I know that I always come away from a day on the water refreshed inside. I may be physically tired, but something deep inside has been reinvigorated.

More than Just H2O

The theme of living water is woven throughout Jewish history and has spilled over into Christian thought, but often without the richness of meaning that was carried in the original text. I hope to  sketch out just a few facets of living water  in this article, in order to give you fuel for Living (going beyond mere existence).

For a much more thorough description of the theme of living water than I can offer here, visit the “Our Rabbi Jesus” site here.

Living Water vs. Drought

Living water has always been highly valued in Israel. You’d understand why if you lived there; much of the land is arid or semi-arid. By this description, living water stands between every living thing and drought. The operant image is one of drenching rain.

Living Water vs.  Saltwater

Living water is also a contrast to water that comes from the sea.  Seawater is a great source of salt, but it does not quench thirst.  I’ve seen miles of South Carolina coastline where a line of dead trees and withered plant life mark where saltwater has taken over what was once dry land. The ocean has always been a Hebrew symbol of death, in stark contrast to the nourishment every living thing draws from freshwater brooks and stream-fed lakes.

Living Water vs. Stagnant Water

The most significant contrast, however, is between living water and water in cisterns. For centuries, people have built storage tanks to save water for times when the rains are delayed. Cisterns, while not salty, are not the most delicious form of water on the globe. Something happens to water when it sits. It loses its pizzazz. It becomes stagnant.

Living water, on the other hand, is aerated and just tastes better. It’s refreshing to swim in and delightful to drink.  Anyone who embraces the Jewish faith is baptized in a pool of living water. Jewish men, women, children, and even cooking utensils are immersed in the water for ceremonial cleansing.

Living Water in Times of Drought

If we look at living water as symbolic of all we need for our inner life, the implications are numerous. When we experience a time of drought in our lives, while we have no power over the drought itself, yet we can seek out rain showers in the form of refreshing people, spiritually nurturing music, books, podcasts, etc. Seek out your Source of Life (i.e., God) and find your Hope and spiritual sustenance there.

Select key phrases that speak Life to you and camp out there. Hold life-giving ideas tightly in your fist, opening your hand frequently to gaze on them. Speak Hope to your Self, reminding yourself that “this too shall pass.”

Choose to look with the eyes of Faith, not at the ominous barren landscape, but at the cooling oasis you just know is out there.  And keep moving forward.

Leave the Seawater for Flowing Streams

Sometimes we find ourselves afloat on a sea of toxicity. No matter the source, your challenge (if you choose to accept it) is to find a mainland and search out streams of fresh water, filling every container you can with the water that can sustain you as you cross the salty sea. Okay, every analogy must break down eventually, but I believe you get the “drift.”

This is when you dust off those old memories of good times and remember that there is Good in the universe.  Recommit yourself to choosing the Good, regardless of what you see all around you. Consciously choose to align yourself with what is true, honorable, right, excellent, Life-giving and praiseworthy (okay, I’m paraphrasing from the Bible, the letter to the Philippians, but it’s what I wanted to say anyhow).

Leave the Cisterns for Living Water

Sometimes we can settle down beside water that is known, familiar, and tasty. If that water does not eventually refresh itself, bringing you new Life, both it and you will stagnate. There is a difference between rest and stagnation.  If you find yourself resisting change because you’re happy where you are, you’re either flourishing in a steady stream of living water or your water has turned into a stagnant cistern and your happiness will soon turn into boredom or disillusionment (and again, the analogy breaks down).

The Hebrew scriptures have a fitting description for what it’s like to be living on stagnant water:

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns,
That can hold no water.

– Jeremiah 2:13 (Thanks to for the text) [/pullquote]

living water 2Your Source is just that – your Source – from whom flows all you need for Life. If you find yourself just existing, instead of Living to the fullest, take a good look to see if in any
way you have replaced your Source with something inferior. There is no other Source.

May you always seek out the Source of living water and be continually refreshed as you Live your life to the hilt.

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Phyllis Hopper is a creative free spirit who loves exploring new places and getting to know new peoples and cultures. She makes her home base in Kansas.