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The Fountain: Metaphor and Magazine
Jul 1, 2011

I read The Fountain as a Christian. Consequently, the magazine’s title is a rich metaphor. For Christians, a Fountain points to God as our Source, as “Living Waters.” That Source also can dissolve our petty attachments, our sins, in a flow of infinite justice. And finally the Fountain can lead us all to more compassionate living, to a life of flow lived in love of God and neighbor.

The Fountain of Living Waters frames Christian Scriptures from beginning to end. In Genesis, the first book of the Torah, in the very first verse, we read: “In the beginning, when God began to create, the Earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep.” The deep in Hebrew is tehom. Such depth is not only the literal vastness of the primordial ocean; tehom also points us to the truth that creation comes from chaos. Life begins in the waters of the womb; cosmos originates in chaos.

Then, in the very last verses of Christian Scriptures, the Book of Revelation, another water image appears. The author borrows from the Prophet Ezekiel to envision the new Jerusalem, the city of peace. This city comes down from heaven, and in its center is a river of life. This river contains crystal clear water, washing away all violence, so that “nothing any more shall be accursed.” Living Waters flow through Christian Scriptures from alpha to omega.

The Holy Bible practically drips; 692 verses refer to waters. Prophet Moses leads the people of Israel to freedom through the waters of the Red (or Reed) Sea. Prophet Jonah doesn’t think it’s such a good idea to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, and embarks on a boat going the opposite direction. But God swallows him up in the belly of a whale, and he returns to the waters of creation, the chaos of tehom. And what does he do there? He prays. His prayer brings him safely to Nineveh, where out of the waters he brings the enemy to repentance. Living Water, the Fountain, turns enemies to allies. This truth is beautifully conveyed in perhaps the most famous Psalm, Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thou preparest a table before me in the company of my enemies. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

The Fountain overflows with abundance, to invite even enemies to the table of justice and mercy.

But the Fountain of our Source also dissolves our petty, ego-driven associations. Prophet Amos puts this best. The people of Israel in his day were unjust. They treated the poor with callous disregard, they didn’t educate their youth, they were violent. But they were also pious, praying five times a day (or the ancient equivalent, anyway!)

And hear what God says, through Amos: “I hate, I despise your festivals. The noise of your solemn assemblies hurts my ears ... But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The Fountain of love is not just a gentle flowing stream. It’s also a tsunami of the power of love that sweeps away all our pretenses. The Fountain throws us unto the mercy of an infinite flood of justice.

Of course, for Christians like me, this merciful and just Fountain also points to, indeed is incarnate within Jesus. Jesus is Living Waters. The story that most clearly conveys this metaphor is in the Gospel of John, where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman by a well and asks her for a drink. She asks him what he’s doing there, for being at a well was woman’s work, and Jesus’ disciples are scandalized, because rabbis didn’t talk to women, much less Samaritans (who were racially “other”). And to make matters worse, this woman has been married five times, and she is now living with a man who is not her husband.

But Jesus tells her: “The water that you give me will only temporarily quench my thirst. But the water I give to you is living waters, and it will well up in you to eternal life.”

And this woman cries out: “Give me this water!” And Jesus says: “I am he.”

Jesus is innocent and perfect compassion. He is a drink of water on a hot day. He is mercy for outcasts, for the poor, for sinners like this Samaritan woman. And what he brings is the possibility that we, too, might live compassionate lives. So the woman goes and tells her neighbors: “I’ve met the Messiah!” She has been washed in the Fountain.

Once we lose our attachment to petty associations, we can live for others, out of true grace. “Whoever seeks to save one’s life,” Jesus teaches, “will lose it. But whoever gives up one’s life for my sake and for the sake of the good news (the gospel), will find true life.”

True life is a life lived for others. This doesn’t entail masochism, but instead offers fulfillment. Psychologists teach that when we are fully engaged in a task we lose the usual blinders of self-consciousness and enter into what they call “flow.” We’re “in the zone,” whether at work, at play, or in love. The point is this: when we love, we truly live.

This is why Lutheran Christians like myself celebrate the baptism of infants. Sometimes, baptism is misunderstood as a one-time event: you get dunked and you’re done. In fact, baptism is more like a first contact with the Fountain. Metaphorically, it can be experienced daily, even many times a day.

Whenever we wash, we can be reminded of our Source. Whenever it rains, we can remember the Fountain. Whenever we take a drink, we can give thanks to God for the mercy of compassion.

All in all, then, baptism is not unlike wudu—the washing of regeneration—that prepares us to pray. As the Apostle Paul urged us, “Pray constantly.” This doesn’t mean doing salat perpetually, it means being aware of our Source. Praying constantly means giving up petty attachments or associations, such as greed, anger, and violence. And praying constantly means giving ourselves away in acts of compassion. When we find the flow of love, we live.

Reading The Fountain as a Christian connects me not only to a magazine, but also to a profound metaphor. The Fountain reminds us of our Source, dissolves petty egoist attachments as we learn about our world, and invites us to join the flow of compassionate living. And isn’t that worth at least the price of a subscription?