canal or reservoir?

“In the Church at present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs.”


Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153

Sermon on the Song of Songs, Sermon 18

My niece is a stream ecologist.  She once told me that the water leaving New York City after processing sewage in treatment plants, is caffeinated. It’s a problem.


Discernment is the tool for the day.  Are we seeing canals or are we seeing reservoirs? The canal races, turbulent, caffeinated from our cities, pouring out; and when depleted, dry up.  But a reservoir with a fresh SOURCE will always and only pour out from its overflowing.  Such a different kind of water! Still, and yet constantly fresh – expressive of its bounty. Discerning the reservoirs – that is our work!


Soon the Episcopal Church will gather itself.  Well, not really.  Just the people who are elected and the “professionals” with actually gather.  The rest of us will read, I suppose, what they decide upon. The way we watched the Royal Wedding. The kind of person who wants election to high office and high conversation at conventions is, well, a certain kind of person.  We must, therefore discern well. You and I. What kind of person is speaking?  What kind of person is writing?  Do I see canal or reservoir?


What I notice about the Church and her “professionals” is that discernment is required.  Who is a canal and who is a reservoir? I know.  Labels are so dangerous.  It is how we dominate, how we judge, and how we set aside people we don’t like or disagree with.  But do we not have some responsibility to live the kind of life* which discerns?  (* Note: I consider all life spiritual so “spiritual life” is a term I find unhelpful.)


“With whom am I speaking? What am I reading right now?   Right now.  In this moment.  Is this a saint or a politician? What kind of voice am I reading, right now?  Is this a saint or a politician?”


Anyone walking those halls of the General Convention will need discernment as do you and I as we read and watch.  If I really felt that the thousands of bishops, clergy and uber-Episcopalians, lining up at the hotel Starbucks, fueling their energies for a day of politics – if I was sure they had spent their morning, like all their convention mornings and all their others; in silent prayer, meditation, self-examination, study and listening – well, perhaps then I might feel better about the whole thing.  We would be seeing a convention of reservoirs.  But too often the people lunging for that scene are canals – fast-moving-water, not sure of a destination – careening- high on the speed of it all and soon, dry.


Danger, Will Robinson.


Choosing to be the reservoir, and not the canal, takes determination and no small amount of courage.  It is humbling to get off the race-track and simply be a puddle.


You (most of you) and I will not be at General Convention.  We are staying home to pray for it.  And Pray we must, for there is much at stake right now. Prophets will show up calling the church to re-form or even perhaps reform. They will, as is always the case, be killed.  Probably not literally, just professionally. The church politicians will rant and rave, sure as they are of this mystery.


The question we will need to ask, as we see real humans working hard to make their statements, fight for their votes, lobby for their points of view; is the same question on the lips of Bernard of Clairvaux in the 10th century. Humans are still humans 1000 years later. His question (one which probably made the bishops of his day nervous then, as now) was “Are you a canal or are you a reservoir?”


You and I, simple folk, not wandering the hallowed halls of expensive hotels and standing in the lines of Starbucks on the way to hearings- you and I have only one question to ask about the people we hear speaking and see writing.  It is this: “Am I seeing a person who is a canal or am I seeing a person who is a reservoir?”  The hard thing is that we may not know.  The easy thing is that God does.  The sneaky thing is God’s mischievousness – that the Holy Spirit will tell us.


The future of the church will not be determined by the outcomes of diocesan elections and General Conventions. The future of the Church, as She molts, will be determined by our discernment and the number of the reservoirs we can find down in quite fields, past loud rapids.

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