THE HOLY SPIRIT: Water And Thirsty Soil by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

Water And Thirsty Soil by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

Now, to apply what we have seen in a practical way, let’s call again to our help the symbol of “Sister Water.”  Water is something that always runs down, never up.  It is always trying to find the lowest place.  So it is with the Holy Spirit: the Spirit loves to visit and fill the lowly, the humble, those who know their own emptiness.  Francis of Assisi, in his Canticle of Brother Sun, makes water a symbol of humility: “Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water, / who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.”

One of the most disquieting phenomena of the physical world in our time is the creeping menace of desertification.  Scientists calculate that hundreds of thousands of hectares of arable ground are engulfed every year by encroaching desert.  The absence of vegetation causes the precipitation of atmospheric water vapor to diminish, and the lower precipitation causes the remaining vegetation to disappear.  The cycle is “mortal.”

From the time of Isaiah, people have understood that the same sort of thing can happen on the spiritual level.  In other words, there is also a desertification of the heart, and the Holy Spirit is the only one who can turn the process around and transform spiritual desert into a place of life:

I will pour out water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground.
I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants.
(Isaiah 44:3)

John’s image of fountains of living water flowing from Christ (John 7:38) also fits into this symbolism of dryness and thirst.  Saint Irenaeus writes: “As the dry ground, if it receives no water, will not bear crops, neither will we ever bear the fruit of life without the rain that falls generously from above.”

Tauler used the example of a real river, the Rhine (he lived all his life on its banks), to illustrate what Saint Ambrose had said in the passage we quoted earlier, about the “strong-flowing stream” that gives joy to the City of God:

This precious Holy Spirit has entered into the disciples and into all who are open to him, bringing well-being, abundance, and plenty in such measure as inwardly to submerge them.  It is as though the Rhine were to be dammed up and its flood gates opened, so that it fills every valley and every low-lying place.  In such a way the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples and on all who are open to him.  And so he continues to do even today, without easing.  He fills and floods the depths of our souls and hearts and minds, every place he finds.  He fills them with great well-being, with grace and love and gifts beyond telling.  He fills the valleys and the depths that are open to him.

The last few words suggest a practical program we might follow: Open the canals and the valleys to the Holy Spirit.  In one of the earliest hymns to the Trinity the Father is called “spring,” the Son, “stream,” and the Holy Spirit, “watering.”  The same image was the inspiration for the beautiful prayer in the Sequence for Pentecost: riga quod est aridum, “water that is dry.”

Sometimes one will see, on a farm where an irrigation channel follows the upper contour of a sloping field, people hurrying to open up little furrows, little channels, to lead the water little by little into every planted row and to every little seedling.  It is a happy kind of work, especially in summertime.  It is the kind of work that makes people sing while they are doing it, and everyone can take part in it, even the little children.  It is an image of what needs to be done in the vineyard of the Lord.  Trace out a little furrow to lead the water of the word of God, or faith or praise or consolation, to someone: the water of the Spirit.  We need not merely trace out these furrows; we can become ourselves channels of the Spirit to others.

Let us conclude with the words of a hymn to the Holy Spirit written a few years after the Veni Creator, which sings of the mystical connection between water and the Holy Spirit:

When God by his Word created
the great rolling engine of Earth,
you hovered, oh Spirit, o’er the water
sending forth rays of your warmth.
Keep making fruitful the water
that makes holy the soul in rebirth.
Breathe on us now, Holy Spirit:
make us live by the life in your breath.

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