Every sandcastle requires a second hole. Not the moat’s descriptive circle, but a mining hole, dug off to the side. A hole that goes down through the dry sand that blew between the pages of my mother’s book, held open by her hand as she napped. Through the damp sand, cool as the underside of a ceramic bowl, and through the wet sand, each scoop heavy as a sleeping fist, to water.

Every hole on the beach dissolves into water. Dig deeper and the sides sheer off, making quicksand, a cool soup for hot feet. Every hole in the backyard—fort’s sink, China’s tunnel, gold’s pursuit—was really a search for the same water. Rainy season was a cheat, but satisfying. Dig a foot and wait an hour: a thin mirror of water appears. Or dig and wait for rain, then stir with a stick, rain guttering off your hood into the hole. The other season yielded just more dry dirt, tree roots to be hacked off with spade’s bright edge, or maybe a marble or an old medicine jar, the glass smoky with age and burial. No water. Just like You.

At least, I want it to be You who doesn’t show up. That way I am the eager seeker, the faithful digger, and You prove yourself unavailable once again. Not a tap to turn on, a pump to lean into, or a glass of water on the bedside table. You are somewhere else, deeper than I can dig.

Some worship times I find myself hole-deep. I’ve run through my excuses: why I am not kinder, why I am lonely, why I cannot trust Your leadings and why, therefore, I am not faithful. My excuses are familiar and I love them. They hold up the fiction of my life: cardboard walls buttressed with kindling. When the walls give way—from fire or wind—I’m Dorothy in Kansas, hysterical, my hands empty, my voice hoarse from calling, "I’m hungry, I’m angry, I’m thirsty!" The bottom of my hole is dry as chalk and hard and rough as a sidewalk. This is not where prayer is supposed to lead me, I say inside. This is not what I have been asking for.

It’s there, crouched and sulking, that I hear the trickle build. In the prayers I hear under seventy breaths. Holes around me are filling, overflowing. I find my feet damp, then wet, then suddenly I’m waist-deep in water, the hole is spilling over, and I have more than I can use. What wetness are You? Groundwater, tapwater, spring water, salt water? I feel the thick swell of a wave, sweeping into the shore as one long arm, lifting me on its muscle off the sandy floor.

Elizabeth Echlin

Elizabeth Echlin was a regular attender at Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, Calif., until her recent move to France.