Who doesn’t love a fountain?
Fountains are extravagantly, unceasingly festive.
Whether it’s the continuous trickle of Rome’s Trevi fountain, or the exuberant bursts of the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, a fountain is a thing of joy.
Some fountains are flashy and show-offy, like Seoul’s Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow. Others, like New York’s Bethesda fountain in Central Park, are stately and majestic.
Human beings have been figuring out how to move water since time immemorial. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, they all built ingenious systems for hoisting water from rivers for drinking and irrigation. But the Romans perfected it. They built aqueducts and public baths. They worked out how to make fountains spray water into the air by using the pressure of water flowing from a distant and higher source.
After them, the Islamic world built fountains in Pasargades, Lahore, Alhambra and Istanbul.
And then, during the Renaissance, Europeans went crazy for fountains. They built them everywhere and in every possible configuration.
But in this day and age, with our hot and cold running water and our swimming pools and jacuzzis, what exactly is the point of a fountain?
Surely, they serve no purpose other than to be sheer, unadulterated fun.
Nowhere is this more obvious than Jaume Plensa’s hilarious Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
More than merely a fountain, it is an interactive public art display. The video sculptures on the two huge glass brick towers regularly change and move and occasionally “spit” water into the enormous black granite reflecting pool between them.
Like I said, who doesn’t love a fountain!
Why am I talking about fountains? Well, I was reading this from one of my favorite writers, the South African missiologist, David Bosch the other day, “Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.”
“To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.”
A fountain of sending love?
Not just a cleansing flood, washing away every “spot or wrinkle,” like Paul says in Ephesians 5:26-27.
Not just “water from the wells of salvation,” as in Isaiah 12:3.
Not even just a “fount of every blessing,” like it says in the old hymn.
But a fountain of sending love.
Bosch is saying that God’s love for and orientation toward the world he created is so central to his character that it cannot but move him into that world. We see God leaning into the world in the act of creation when he sends out his missionary (sent) word to fashion order from the chaos. We see it in his presence with Adam and Eve in the garden, and his devotion to Israel. We see it in him sending his son to redeem the world to himself.
That God — the sent-and-sending God — is the one from whom flows such love it sweeps up the redeemed souls and propels them out into the still-broken world. Like a fountain.
That’s why there’s a church. The church is the redeemed community of sent ones. Like the cascading flow from a magnificent fountain, the church exists for this — to bring joy and hope to a broken world.
One of my favorite fountains is in my hometown. The El Alamein fountain in Sydney’s Kings Cross is a gorgeous 1961 modernist design evoking a huge dandelion of water above a series of four terraced pools. The spherical bronze fountain head comprises 211 radially arranged ‘stalks’, with an overall diameter of 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m). Each stalk sprays a small amount, but together they create a balloon of water.
Due to the effect of wind, the saucer-shaped films of water change from convex to concave shapes, giving an ever-changing movement to the sphere. As the films of water break into spray, the sphere has a drape of mist, falling onto the top hexagonal pool.
Recently, the El Alamein underwent a major restoration and was turned off for a number of months. Without the filmy flow of water, the structure just looks jagged and ugly. In fact, all fountains look weird when the water is turned off. But the El Alamein looks scary.
That’s a metaphor for the church. As David Bosch said, there is church because there is mission, not the other way round. We were designed to participate in the flow of God’s fountain of sending love. Each of us is like a stalk on the El Alamein fountain, each contributing its small part.
We were designed to let the love of God flow through us to the world, to the lost, to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the rejected and scorned. We were designed to be a beautiful, fun, exuberant, expression of God’s sending love. Children and the poor should splash in the stream, the lonely and lost should gambol beneath the torrent.
And when we don’t, we look ugly. Or scary.
Don’t stem the flow. Don’t try to turn off the faucet. Lean out into the world that God loves and let the fountain explode with life and hope.