I was born and lived for the first seven years of my life in Southern California. Water is a BIG DEAL there, as most people know from news of the recent record breaking drought, or from the themes of movies such as “Chinatown.”
Water — clean, fresh, flowing water — is a big deal in most places in the world. Even the state in which I live now — Land of 10,000 Lakes — has issues with contamination of groundwater, keeping sources of lake water clean, etc.
In the United Kingdom, water is ever present — lakes, rivers, springs, and, of course, the seas. One of the themes I want to pay attention to on this pilgrimage is this ever-flowing, always being renewed, cleansing and life-giving water.
Some of the first pilgrimage sites in the British Isles were holy wells. These were places perhaps first associated with local pagan deities that later became associated with Christian saints. Think of John 4 — the well where the Samaritan woman came to draw water was first associated with the patriarch Jacob (he was NOT a local pagan deity but you get my meaning!). But after Jesus’ visit, that identity changed. The well would forever be the place where the woman found new life: “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
One of the places we hope to visit briefly in Wales is St. Winefride’s Well in Holywell, Wales, said to be the only place in Britain with an unbroken history of pilgrimage from the 7th century until now. So more about when we visit!
In 2000 when we visited Taize with the England Term students of that era, I bought a small enameled medal that the monks make.
The tiny explanation that came with it quoted John 7.37: “If anyone is thirsty let him some to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” I chose this symbolic medal to remind me both of Taize and the lovely spring (or source, in French) that bubbles up in their valley, but also to remind myself that I should continually trust and believe so I can share those living waters with so many who are thirsty all around me.
As we take care of last minute packing, meet with the students and parents today, and head out over the ocean tomorrow, please keep us in your prayers. We want to encounter Jesus and his Church in new ways, among new people and places. We will no doubt get thirsty both literally and figuratively. Please pray that we will be reminded by the abundant sources of water in the United Kingdom and Ireland to continually go to our source, Jesus Christ.