You can’t escape water in Derbyshire at this time of year. Wells and well dressings are famous. It’s right to use as many excuses as possible to create beauty. Well dressing brings together all ages, all skills, and mixes creativity with fun. It is delightful. It’s an act of love. Is there any difference between love and beauty? When we look at something beautiful, whether as creator or observer, we are moved by it and possessed by it. It enfolds us, and we enfold it. A wonderful exchange. A holy communion. Divine. And there is no better focus for celebration than water.
Water is wonderful stuff, created when hydrogen explodes with oxygen. It sustains its own vast community of things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts, home to the smallest amoeba, the largest leviathan (aka whale) and everything between. You and I begin life in it in our mother’s wombs. It makes up most of you and me. It’s in and surrounds every cell of our bodies. It allows nutrients to reach our cells, and allows the removal of rubbish. Without it we shrivel up and die, dehydrated.
Images associated with water in Holy Scripture are much like its functions in the body. It sustains the Hebrews when they’re wandering in the desert. Moses struck the rock and water gushed out. I’ve been to that place, Wadi Musa (wadi is a valley or riverbed that’s dry most of the time; Musa means of Moses) near Petra. It really exists. When we live in a part of the world where rain is taken for granted and reservoirs are close by, it’s easy to forget that in the middle East water is precious, not a drop to be wasted. Water cleans. We remember this in Baptism when water signifies washing away of the old, ready for the new start. One of the hymns we sing at well dressing services speaks of ‘streams of living waters’. And as water rehydrates and washes, it enables healing. For Christians, this cleansing water is Jesus the Christ showing us the way to enlightenment. It stands to reason that if water removes all the grime that we collect, we must, at the end of the process go on our way lighter—in both senses: looking brighter because less grimy, and not as heavy either, since we’re not carrying so much muck. Think about it.
Irregular verb: lighter, lighten, delight. Washing off muck is like saying goodbye to things that have done their job and that we don’t need any more. We go on our way. To where? To enlightenment. A lighter burden. Illuminated by the light of the world, the Divine light of our Lord’s teaching, the Divine light that is in us all, ready to shine to lighten the way for others. Enjoy yourself. Bring delight to yourself and others.