Lent 2022


Lent 2022: This is Water

An Image Reflection for the Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

STM's Assistant Chaplains and members of STM's staff will share an image and reflect on it each Saturday. This Saturday, Assistant Chaplain David Rivera reflects on the words of David Foster Wallace and how we can slow down, take stock and say, “This is water.” 

This is Water

In his 2009 commencement speech at Kenyon College entitled “This is Water,” author David Foster Wallace shared the following classic, if cliché story: “There are these 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?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

Amid the groans of the graduating seniors on that hot day, Wallace stressed that most of us are like these two fish–passively living our lives on auto-pilot, not seeing the world or those around us for what they really are. In doing so we give up our free-will, our choice of how to be in the world, and ultimately what we worship. The idolatry of the modern world is as insidious as it is unconscious. If we worship money, things, our minds, bodies, or the pursuit of power, we will, as Wallace said that day, be eaten alive. Without the active choice to turn to God and love others, we will invariably worship one of these other destructive things. What we do is what we worship, and what we worship is what we do,

In today’s readings, the allure of idolatry is front and center. God promises his people a united nation, no longer defiled with idolatry. God promises to be there for his people, a shepherd, to deliver them from their sins. In the Gospel, Caiaphas indeed worships, but worships power and control rather than the God of love. Left on this default, it is better for Caiaphas to kill Jesus than have his status quo threatened. What idols do we unconsciously worship? How do we crucify Christ to protect our unexamined ways of living? 

Wallace concluded by telling the soon-to-be-graduates that real freedom “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: ‘This is water, this is water.’” Only when our eyes are truly open will we see the Spirit of love working in the world and in our lives. 

This image is of my backyard for four years, and I too often took it for granted. How can we slow down, take stock and say, “This is water?”  

David Rivera '21 M.A.R.

David is one of STM's Assistant Chaplains. His area of focus is Undergraduate Ministry and outreach.