In arid ancient Israel, access to artesian wells made all the difference between prosperity, survival, or famine.
And so when God blessed Isaac so that his crops reaped a hundred-fold return (Gen. 26:12) and he became very wealthy, out of envy, his enemies, the Philistines “stopped up all the wells that Abraham had built, filling them with earth.”
Today, there are almost weekly accounts of the Israeli occupation forces destroying Palestinian wells, farms and orchards. Destroying wells, sources of life, is always a very effective enemy action, leaving aridity and poverty.
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Barbara Brown Taylor popularised this question: What is saving your life, right now?
Prayer and scripture and communal worship is certainly part of it.
But other things are keeping me alive too: long, slow, contemplative walks out of doors with my beloved collie Jake, my body getting into a rhythm of movement, my mind relaxing, still as a pool, until I am no longer thinking, but just being, and then suddenly a golden carp of thought pops up, unexpected and welcome.
And travel, which is complete relaxation. My mind rests from conscious thought, planning, strategizing, worrying. I shrug off my to-do list, and my uneasy Puritan imperative of ambition and must-achieve. I am just am, and am purely happy and relaxed, wandering the streets of a beautifully preserved medieval town like Troyes, France, which we visited last week, just looking, or wandering aimlessly on the alpine meadows of Switzerland, to which we drove earlier this month.
Blogging is saving my life, in that it pushes me to think, to observe, to express, to strive for beauty.
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But life has blocked up several life-giving wells for me, as for all of us.
And I am opening up these wells.
Before I married, I was a voracious reader. Reading was my escape from the world, and my greatest source of joy, and I felt I needed to be alone to really disappear into a book leaving the world behind me, and I found that hard while living with other people.
I have been steadily reading less through the 23 years of our marriage, though I have recently re-launched a reading recovery programme—reading 1 page more each day than I did the day before, aiming to hit 45 pages a day, or a book a week. Concurrently, as a back-up plan since I have many books on the go, I aim to finish each book in 1 day less–30 days for book 1; 29 days for book 2, etc. This plan gets anyone to reading a book a week in 23 months.
And with reading, I have lost other sources of joy. As a child, I loved myth and legend and fairy tales and children’s stories. Sadly, I have not read much in these genres as an adult, because, well, I was an adult and thought I should be reading serious, grown-up stuff.
It’s strange that I didn’t realize that children’s stories and fairy tales and myths and legends were invented by adults, who were putting themselves back in touch with the sources of joy and delight. And we can step there with them, if we give ourselves permission to.
On holiday earlier this month in Switzerland, Italy and France, it was as if God switched a switch on in my brain, and children’s stories poured out of me, two and three a day. And writing children fiction–ah bliss, gives me “permission” to read it.
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Poetry was something else I loved to read as a child, and the first genre I wrote in as an adult. My masters in creative writing was in poetry.
But then, making the correct or incorrect assessment that I probably would not have a career as a poet, I gave it up in my late twenties. It is something else I would love to resume, first reading it exhaustively, then writing it.
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Our large garden was a huge source of joy as a child. I have a large garden now, even larger than my childhood garden, but in fact, though I write looking at it, it is hard to recover the habit of working in it consistently.
I would like an extraordinary garden, and would love to make time to work in it every day, for an hour, like I used to. But I have made peace with the fact that when it comes to it, I prefer writing to gardening. So, since it is better to take just a few steps in the direction of one’s dreams than none at all—I am gardening just once every few days for now.
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What will re-open the wells of life and joy for us?
Examine your life. See what you are doing out of duty and habit which is not life-giving for you. (Too much internet usage? On too many rotas at church? Staying up too late doing nothing much?)
Then begin to shoehorn joy into your life, starting small—in the smallest measurable increments, steadily rebuilding
What is saving your life now? Are there wells of joy which have closed for you? Tell us in the comments.