I encountered this metaphor while on a short-term mission trip which resulted in me staying in that place for three years. It applies to mission and to spirituality. This is how I remember it.
A visitor to an Australian outback cattle ranch was intrigued by the seemingly endless miles of farming country with no sign of any fences. He asked a local rancher how he kept track of his cattle. The rancher replied, “Oh that’s no problem. Out here we dig wells instead of building fences.”
The logic is simple, in a way. There is no need to fence the cattle in as they are aware of where their source of life comes from. They need the water. They will not wander off too far from it. This is a great paradigm for spirituality and I will come back to it shortly!
A Buddhist, a Muslim and a Catholic
In one of my papers at Uni, “Cultures in Education”, we had the opportunity to grapple with how our beliefs impact our teaching philosophies as well as the students in our classrooms – essentially, the ‘other’. As a part of exploring this we had the chance to dialogue with a Buddhist and two Muslims in our lecture room. While completing that paper I was on placement at a Catholic school where I had ample opportunity to observe Catholicism and the philosophy and teaching it breeds. I liked the practical applications they have managed to implement.
The thing that has stood out in all of my encounters with these people has been their view of the world. I am intrigued by the simple questions asked of me by the Catholic teacher like, “Where is your parish? Where do you go for mass?” I am fascinated by how, the Buddhist, shaped by his ideas of karma, couldn’t understand my subtle hints towards grace and how the Muslim and I agreed to disagree on the subject of Jesus. My questions haven’t take me down the road of apologetics. Instead, I have had to ask the question, keeping in mind that I probably have a log in my own eye: “How big is my God?” Am I too stuck in an insulated capsule, with goggles that only see the world as a reflection of myself? How limited is my understanding of the people who share these sidewalks and roads with me?
Back to the Outback
This is how I started thinking about fences and wells again. Is my world closed off? Have I built fences that stop me from encountering those that are ‘other’ from me? In the wells and fences metaphor, I see Jesus as the well, my source of life and sustenance. As I travel to the outer edges, where my thirst kicks in, I return to the well. There might be days, especially early in the piece, where I don’t venture off too far from the well. But there will be days, especially when I am accustomed to how much water I need, I can venture off into the outback and explore its vastness without being too worried about my thirst… for the time being.
From the fences and wells metaphor we can draw two conclusions. Firstly, if our approach to mission and spirituality is represented by the fence, who gets in? And if there is a “in” who is left “out”? Secondly, if our approach to mission and spirituality is represented by the well, who travels with me? What do we take and how are we shaped by our reliance on the well?
“How BIG is my God?”
But there is the other side of this reflection. Am I too concerned in expanding my world and understanding of it, instead of intimately knowing my well and its immediate surroundings? Maybe I’m not the only one drinking at this well. Who else could be on this journey? How can I know?
This is where I’m at. How do we engage in dialogue with the ‘other’, the one who sees the world from a different vantage point than we do?
I’m deeply passionate about teaching and pursuing justice in the classrooms, schools and communities I find myself in. I’m interested in developing classrooms that are more like wells in the vast outback, nooks in the community where students have their thirst quenched. The question that keeps coming up for me is, “How big is my God?” I can’t shake it.
Your will be done, not mine
It’s not easy to constantly be in spaces and places where you are outside of your comfort zone. As a follower of The Way I’m learning, slowly and painfully, to say like Jesus on the cross, “Your will be done, not mine”. There have been times where I too often define what I want to be about by what I’m against and what I’m not (fences). By learning to say, “Your will be done, not mine”, I’m essentially redefining myself according to the well, Jesus, which gives me life.
How different will our conversations with the ‘other’ be if we defined ourselves along the grace of God and way of Jesus? Not defining ourselves against the ‘evil’ other but as though they could become brothers and sisters.
by Andy Crowe