Reflections on Story Water

My second post on this blog, on July 1, 2010, featured a poem called “Story Water” by the 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi.  It came to mind in the light of recent events.

Friday morning, as I worked on post #420, I got up for coffee and flipped on the radio.  The post concerned what folklore can teach us about living in difficult times.  After I heard of the murdered children, I put it aside.  Some events seem too much for stories.  Yet reflection later reminded me that stories are always with us, one way or another.  Rumi knew this.  He knew how the stories we hear feed our inner tales and the importance of choosing wisely where to place our attention.

On friday night, hundreds of people in Newtown, Connecticut went to church.  As I heard how they turned to a story of hope in a dark time, I thought of one of the first such stories I told myself.

One day in first grade, a classmate went home sick.  The following monday, the teacher told us she died.  I had seen dead birds in the woods behind our house, but that was the first time I realized death could visit at any time.  It could steal our friends and loved ones away in a heartbeat.

The dead girl’s name was Cindy Erwin, and she was the minister’s daughter.  I figured her father’s vocation gave her an in with Jesus, and she would be fine.  I never worried about Cindy, although I’ve never forgotten her name.  I knew it was the rest of us who were in trouble.

Stories like this, the ones we tell ourselves, shape our lives in ways we can barely imagine.  Everyone young or old who lived through events at Sandy Hook School or watched them unfold on TV will remember the day as long as they live and tell themselves stories about what happened and why and what it means.

According to Rumi, few of us know the answers with certainty.  That’s why we have stories.  That’s why they matter so much.  I think he would have agreed that in the end, the world is made of stories, so it matters very much which ones we tell each other and ourselves.  In ways we don’t understand, they shape the world as it unfolds.


A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,

and then not.