John Ortberg uses a powerful parable in his book Soul Keeping – it’s the story of a village, built around a mountain steam. Fed by several springs high in the mountains, the water of the stream was clear and fresh, home to ducks and swans and the playground of the village children. Years previously the village had employed an old man as the keeper of the stream. It was his task to clear away debris and blockages upstream. One year the village council decided that they could no longer afford to employ the old man – their budget was tight and having an unsupervised employee doing who-knows-what in the mountains seemed like a luxury they simply couldn’t afford. The keeper of the stream was retrenched.
For a time no-one noticed anything different, but after a while they could see that the quality of the water had deteriorated. The birds left, the children stopped playing in the stream, and people in the village began to get ill. They realised – too late – that the life of the village depended on the stream and the life of the stream depended on the keeper. In the story, the village re-hires the man and after a time, the birds return, the children play in the water again and the village comes back to life. Ortberg ends the parable with these striking words: “the stream is the soul. And you are the keeper.” (Here's a link to a very effective telling of the story on Youtube).
It’s a powerful punchline (especially in the video clip!) because as I listened to the story, I identified with the village, not the keeper. The village lived happily ever after because the keeper looked after them – there was someone else whose responsibility it was to care for their stream. Ortberg makes it clear though that tending my soul is my work. I need to be intentional in removing blockages and debris in the stream if my soul is to be a source of life to the village that is me. On Wednesday evening our Spring group looked at this story and then talked about how deliberate, intentional practices have the effect of clearing the stream. It was a really hopeful conversation and I hope you’ll connect with a small group as the groups experiment with some of these ideas.
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