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Spiritual Reflections

Deep Water

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

When I was a small girl my brother would take me fishing at the small lake at the bottom of our hill. I loved these outings: the water was shallow and weedy, and I could see the many sunfish swimming about beneath the bobber. Occasionally I would catch one on my soggy worm, always too small to keep. My brother enjoyed these outings as well, since I was so easily entertained and he could concentrate on impressing the girls who were sunning themselves in the park.

As I grew older and no longer needed my brother's supervision, I grew bored with the little sunnies in their warm shallows: so visible, so unsatisfying. One day I ventured away from the little lake, following the feeder stream into the woods. Back then the woods were thick and deep, tangled with vines and voracious thorny underbrush. For a long while I struggled through the dark thickets, as the stream twisted and tumbled over rocks . Then, with no warning, the woods opened into a grassy clearing. A large beech tree grew right at the bank, and the stream deepened into a brandy-colored pool where the roots made a steep shelf over the water. As I sat there, my back against the smooth gray bark, nursing the scratches on my legs and arms, a flash of silver teased me from the water. I looked up, but saw only the slow eddies where the dark water pooled. Then, again, a flash. For just a moment, I glimpsed the shimmering side of a large trout as it neared the surface. Then, it sank down again into the darkness. I threaded my line, and cast into the pool. No hits. And no further glimpse of the great fish.

Again and again I went back to that deep pool, fighting my way through the vines and thickets of the woods to find it. A few times I cast for the trout; after a while, I found I no longer wanted to fish for it. It was enough to rest there on the grassy bank, my back against the old beech tree, and contemplate its presence in that deep water. I never saw the fish again. But I visited it frequently throughout my teenage years. And even today, when I meditate or sink into prayer, it is to that quiet spot by the deep pool that my soul goes.

While this is a true story, I have found it to be an apt metaphor for the spiritual life. Once we have been to the deeper places, the warm shallows will no longer satisfy with their sandy bottoms and easy answers. The deep place is full of mystery. It gives us only the rarest glimpse of its inhabitant. If we visit it, regularly, we find we no longer need to fish, but only to rest in that Presence. There, we can be still, and, in that stillness, be granted a brief vision of God.

"To see Thee is the end and the beginning. Thou carriest me and Thou goest before. Thou art the journey and the journey's end."