Come to me
“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The ocean is a place of contemplation for me. With its undulations and sea life, scurrying sandpipers and soaring gulls, the ocean draws me into a place where time gets slippery. Worries recede and thoughts of people I love can come to mind, people in heaven and on earth. The next thing I know, an hour or more has passed, my heart rate has slowed, and I feel oddly refreshed. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.”
The ocean is also a place that invites play. As waves wash up onto the shore over and over, I love seeing little children bravely running to embrace a wave or kick up the shallow water, while others squeal with delight and run away, as the foamy water seems to reach onto the shore to tag the children’s ankles. I hear that voice saying, “Let the little children come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Contemplative rest and play – for many of us, these are two of the best antidotes to the wear of time, with its relentless stresses and demands. The ocean is such an embracing and healing presence in my life. Something shifts for me at the shore.
Something shifted for me the other day, when a few of us went outside after the sun had set to see the illuminated water in our new memorial garden fountain. The sight and sound drew me in immediately. Watching the lit fountain was sort of like watching the ocean – everything besides the splashing, dancing water started to recede, including the rush hour traffic on Grove Avenue. I felt myself surrendering to the same timeless musings that I know from sitting by the sea.
Just then, three people who had attended Evensong—a parishioner, her adult son, and a friend—stopped to admire the fountain playfully gushing up into the night air. One of the men had been baptized at St. Stephen’s, and now lives in another state. His friend was a pastor from Nigeria. Neither knew that this was our memorial garden, but they were drawn to the gushing, playful water.
I greeted them and told them that the fountain had just been completed, that it was part of our expanded garden, where the ashes of many of our faithful parishioners are now buried. We installed a fountain, I explained, because water is a cherished symbol of baptism and new life, and because it reminds us of Jesus’ words, that the water he would give would become in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. We wanted this sacred part of our church grounds to remind us of our eternal life, to help us remember that this earthly life is only part of the whole, that there is more.
Our visitors loved it, and we stood together silently for a moment, watching the water dance. “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens….” Then, the American said to the Nigerian, “Let’s get our picture made!” So it was that among the first pictures of our new fountain included one of an American and his African friend, arms around each other’s shoulders, with illuminated water gushing up behind them.
Almost immediately after they had posed and started to leave, two beaming little girls came running into the garden to play, to touch the water in the fountain, as their smiling mother looked on. “Let the little children come to me….”
Contemplative rest and play: two ways in which God frees us from the grip of stress and worry, slows our breathing, opens our hearts, relaxes our minds, and draws us to the “more” of our lives.
There’s a new sense of beckoning presence on our church campus now, in our most sacred space. It is both contemplative and playful. If I close my eyes in our memorial garden today, with the fountain splashing nearby, I can hear Jesus saying what he said after he called Lazarus out of the tomb: “Unbind him, and let him go.”