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The Water Runs: A Reflection and Song

A reflection and a song based on Sunday’s lectionary readings for March 15. Offered to those shut in or shut out of Church on account of the coronavirus.

Friday morning I woke with a disquiet spirit. I had gone to bed conflicted about going ahead with next week’s concert in Winnipeg on account of our civic leaders asking us all to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by canceling non-essential public events. To be truthful, my conflict was mostly based on economic concerns… but once I got past it, it was obvious to me that canceling is what love looks like in the current situation.

By the end of the day my manager and I had not only cancelled next week’s concert in Winnipeg but the whole next months’ events (as have many of my colleagues) including a retreat in Calgary this weekend and several college appearances over the next few days. Yesterday we were able to change our flights and made our way home.

En route home, it occurred to me that I might use this newly freed-up time to put something online that could serve as a bit of spiritual reflection for those who will be shuttered today with canceled church services, or isolated because of compromised health concerns.

I looked at the lectionary (scripture) readings for today to see if I may have a thought and an appropriate song to share, and lo… I do!

Water and Thirst

Both the Old and New Testament readings for today revolve around the relationship between water and thirst.

The gospel reading (John 4:5-42) recalls when Jesus, en route to Jerusalem from Gallilee, met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Completely disregarding social convention, Jesus indicates he is thirsty and asks her for water, but quickly the conversation turns and he cryptically offers her “living” water instead.

“But you have no bucket and the well is deep!” she objects.

Jesus responds by claiming that he is what he is offering, saying “I Am the living water,” echoing the I Am saying of ancient Israel’s God (Yahweh) found in Exodus 3:14.

The Old Testament reading (Exodus 17:1-7) recalls the story of the ancient Israelites having just escaped the terrible tyranny of Egypt’s Pharaoh only to find themselves roaming a vast desert feeling rather insecure about their food and water supply. In their insecurity, the people eventually turn on their leader, Moses, with threats of violence. Fearing death at their hands, Moses turns to Yahweh (I AM) for help.

God instructs Moses to go to Horeb and promises to be standing on the rock there. “Strike the rock and water will come from it so that the people may drink.” 

Grace: A New Response

A detail of the story I wouldn’t have noticed, but that my friend Rikk Watts once pointed out, is that in striking the rock, Moses would be striking God. In other words, God voluntarily takes the hit, and rather than responding in kind with violence, God responds in grace… with water. God absorbs the Israelite’s death blow and returns life in its stead revealing something rather startling about the who-ness of God. We should be hearing echoes of the Good Friday/ Easter story here.

Remember that the Israelites had just escaped a cruel monarch who claimed to be a god but who maintained his glory and rule by inflicting violence… not absorbing it. But here, in this place of desolation, far from the crush of centralized power, Israel was coming to know a God (Yahweh / I Am) who was “not like the other gods.”

As the story goes, Moses struck the rock, and life-sustaining water flowed.

My Own Story About Water

Years ago my wife and I purchased an acreage in the Interlake region just north of Winnipeg and proceeded to build a home on the property there. It wasn’t a good time for me. I was just coming out of a season of burn-out and depression and was feeling (metaphorically speaking) desperately thirsty. My faith held that God was there, but my felt experience suggested otherwise.

Early in the building project, I hired a company to drill a well for our family’s water supply. The contractor explained that the area was such that water may be found dozens to hundreds of feet below the surface and that selecting a location for the easiest results was a bit of a crapshoot. Given that the cost of drilling was billed by the foot, and that already the project had been fraught with accidents and cost over-runs, I was nervous. But more than that… I was interiorly desperate. My spirit needed the consolation of knowing that despite the surface aridity of our property, that there was life-giving water somewhere below.

The day the drillers came I was quite anxious about the whole affair. The thick bit started grinding through dirt and rock: ten feet… thirty… fifty… eighty… And with each foot, my anxiety rose. I no longer remember how deep they drilled but finally, there was a lurch and the drillers stopped and waited. Soon, cool, crystalline water came bubbling up to soak the surrounding ground with the promise of life, and my grateful tears fell to the ground to meet and mingle with the good gift rising up from the deep.

Ironically, the day we moved into the house was a miserable, rain-soaked day… I didn’t mind. 

An Ancient Voice

One quiet night, months after we had moved in, I found myself sitting alone in our new screened porch, serenely listening to the evening’s toad-chuckle and cricket-song. Overwhelmed with gratitude and relief, I sensed in my bones an ancient echo, and heard in my heart an ancient voice, “See? I AM here.”

The Psalm reading for this day (Psalm 95) encourages us to remember and to worship; remember the aridity, remember the insecurity, remember the panic that caused the ancients to forget. Above all, remember the water, and the God in whose hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains; the seas and the dry land which his hands have formed.

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 95: 6,7)

listen below:

Listen: THE WATER RUNS by Steve Bell

Music and Lyrics by Steve Bell
album: Waiting for Aidan (2001)

You break from the city in the pouring rain
To settle in the middle of the Interlake
Where the green browns over in the summer sun
But under it all the water runs

As if that’s not enough – summer dies
It all freezes over and you’re buried alive
You gotta admit that you panic some
But under it all the water runs

The water runs
And courses deep
Beneath the imprint of these troubled feet
So much is done to stay the creep
And slay the fear that there’s nothing here
Or underneath

You carefully plan to minimize mistakes
You just get started and you break a leg
It’s not so easy when it’s not much fun
But under it all the water runs

The water runs
And courses deep
Beneath the imprint of these troubled feet
So much is done to stay the creep
And slay the fear that there’s nothing here
Or underneath

Every single day now
I recall the fright
Sink a hole and pray now
Many times
Many times a night

Peace-moon hovers and the forest sleeps
Sitting alone among the rustling leaves
I’ll retire when my pipe is done
‘Cause under it all the water runs


  1. grant

    Still one of my SB favorites – made more so by knowing a little more of the backstory. Very timely. Thanks!

  2. Teresa Peters

    Thanks Steve, I was sitting and getting frustrated about the fact we have cancelled service and fellowship tomorrow. Instead, we all should be thanking God that we have the technology to share the Word on-line. For this and so much more we will continue to give thanks to our Lord and Saviour. “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 95: 6,7) Regardless of where we worship.

  3. Christopher Trevisan

    I’m up for a position as worship pastor…and the answer comes through to me tomorrow after church. Meanwhile I am up against 2 other finalists. Steve, your comments about anxiety towards the unknown are very timely. Holy Spirit arranged this meeting of minds and hearts. Never underestimate the efficacy of your ministry and how much God is in it.

    Always loved this tune. Top ten for sure!

    With gratitude,


  4. Trish Keam

    Thanks Steve,
    David and I know what it is like to have to keep digging deep. But how wonderful when it begins to rain as well. Then we have more than we need and we can share with others. May the Lord of Hosts abundantly bless you and your family. You have scattered much seed,I pray to the Lord will grant you a great harvest and a blessed ‘Sabbath’ rest. .Trish Keam

  5. Sue Gleason

    Though I have all your albums, I don’t think I ever took in this song! Thanks for the back story. Yes! We can trust our God, our community, ourselves. Coronavirus is providing a real opportunity to demonstrate love, kindness and generosity. Thank you for doing your part in sharing this song with us!

  6. Casey Hoogveld

    Always enjoyed this song for its vibe and now understand what it’s about. Cool. The storey brought to mind two other songs we like to sing, Woman At the Well by Denis Grady and yours song, Here By the Water. How often in my life journey I had to build a little alter from the rubble and stones to praise God for His mercy and love. Thank you Steve.

  7. Gail Marshall

    Thank you Steve. I have been feeling afraid, discouraged, uncertain in these past few days of self-isolation. And this morning, up early, I have been talking to God and asking Him to increase my faith and trust and you have become His answer to me. He is our strength and He is exactly who we need to be holding onto right now. Thanks for being “ church” this morning. Thanks for giving us The Water Runs.

  8. Christine

    Thanks so much for being my ‘church’ this morning!! And I am reminded of your other ‘water’ song, “Here by the Water”, which moves me deeply every time I listen to it. Peace to you as you feel the financial hit of this virus, but also as you share your gift and love of music and our creator to those who need it.

  9. Valerie Sciberras

    Thank you Steve, the Lord fed my soul through you and your music this morning. 🙂 Looking forward to your concert when things are able to return to normal. God bless you as you continue to bless others.

  10. David Dukr

    Steve, I so thank God for you, your ministry to myself, family and faith family is a true and secure blessing from Jesus our Lord and Savior!

  11. Veronica Dudych

    Dear Steve,
    Thanks for the pick-me-up! God really IS good!
    We missed services today, too, but God provided as He always does.
    Let us worship Him in spirit and in truth, if not in our usual temples. (And may our ‘usual temples’ always be His, when we get there, not ones of our own making!)

  12. Yolanda

    Beautiful. Thank you so much for reminding us of the living water that is Jesus. Not only does He satisfy thirst, but He cleanses us. In this time of increased awareness of cleanliness, and thirst for peace, how wonderful to think that all our needs are met in Him. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”…under it all, the headlines, the worry, the Water runs. Thank you. God bless you as you continue to bless others in new and unique ways that only quarantine can do.

  13. Emma

    HI. This day it “uplifted” me, to read your personal “water story”..Thank you.
    I, also have much enjoyed “Here By the Water”, and TRIED to sing along, on occasion .. (In solitude times ). Blessings !

  14. Dan Parker

    Thanks Steve. I needed this beautiful reminder today in a world gone mad. Sorry that you had to cancel so many dates. Continue to rest in him in every moment and every circumstance. Blessings!

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