I heard an Ash Wednesday sermon, yesterday, that including the following story…
“There are two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What’s water?”
Obviously, the point is, we tend to become so acclimated to our environments, circumstances, cultural mores, belief-systems, etc., that we may be blind to what ought to be obvious.
During one year of my doctoral studies, my family lived in a townhouse that backed to a railroad track. We also lived near Main Street, and every train horn blew just about the time it reached our back door. Some nights, as many as fifteen different trains would pass, each blaring its horn. The walls of the townhouse would shake as each train passed. At first, the trains made it VERY difficult to sleep. But, after a few weeks, we stopped noticing, and slept peacefully. We only noticed when visitors would complain.
I currently live next door to a massive pit bull named Otis. Otis barks a lot, and VERY loud – all day, every day – somedays starting around 4:30 am. I’m hoping that I’ll stop noticing that, too, one of these days. That hasn’t happened yet. In fact, I hear him now. Danged dog.
I suppose there are many things, like that, good and bad. If you’ve grown up around prejudice, you might not recognize it. If you’ve always lived with affluence, you might take it for granted. If the kitchen faucet has always leaked, the sound of the drip, drip, drip might not register. How many of us notice the ticking of clocks, the hum of the refrigerator, or the sounds of birds chirping outside our windows? They say we become “nose blind” to odors that are initially offensive, until we stopped noticing.
Back to the story – “What’s water?” Imagine being so immersed in something, like water, that you’re totally oblivious to its existence. You’re literally swimming in it, and have no idea. I suppose it’s a bit like air or gravity. I may not be aware of my need for air, or air’s existence, until someone chokes me and I suddenly need it! Or, I may not be aware of gravity, until I fall down the stairs, and painfully discover gravity’s pull – and my weight.
This little story could be applied to so many things, but I am thinking specifically about God. Imagine being completely surrounded by, and immersed in, and invaded by the presence of God.
The Apostle Paul told the Athenians, “God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28)
And, the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made.” (Romans 1:20)
Theologian, Paul Tillich, called God the “Ground of our being.” saying, “God is first of all being-itself, it is possible to say that he is the power of being in everything and above everything, the infinite power of being.”
In other words, the Pauls are saying, we’re swimming in the presence and power of God every moment of our existence, and may not have a clue! We exist in God, and God in us. God is as close as the air we breath. Every step we take is on holy ground, as every step we take is with God. God is everywhere we go, and there’s nowhere God isn’t.
Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! (Psalm 139:7-12 CEB)
Or, in other words, we are the fish and God is the water.
The question is, are we the old fish or the young, ignorant fish?