Tales from a Spacious Place excerpt (fish in water)

“Some restrictions can free you,” I began, like a bored student parroting back a set of half-grasped words. Then understanding came in a blinding flash. I sat stock-still, amazed. “You’re talking about things like music lessons or physical training, aren’t You? If you restrict yourself by practicing or training, it actually opens up new possibilities. It creates freedom to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to accomplish.”[i]


“But then not all restrictions free you,” I added, thinking back to injustices, like slavery, which were often within the realm of legality.

“Right. Think about physical training. Suppose a person trained to fly like a bird, using only his body. He could spend his life strengthening his muscles and studying birds, but would those restrictions help him achieve his goal?”

“No.” I snickered, then realized I’d done things that were likely just as foolish.

“And would his life be fulfilling, or would it be wasted?”


“Do you see that this person is less himself? The wrong restrictions dehumanize you. So, as you were saying, not all of them are freeing—”

I ground my teeth. “And now, I suppose, we’re back to how to determine which ones are freeing and which will suck the life out of you.” I didn’t want to talk about it!

Jesus smiled at me. “There are fish in this pond.”

I blinked at Him a few times, then decided to just go with it. “Yes, yes there are,” I said, noting the many ripples disturbing the water’s surface. The fish were in a feeding frenzy.

“Do you suppose the fish know they need water?” He asked, idly slipping His fingers into the pond.

“I have no idea.”

He stood up and held out a hand. “Let’s go find out.”

I gulped. “Um, okay, sure.” I took His hand.


I began to shrivel and shrink. It was an unpleasant sensation, like being squished into a box much too small. Then all at once, I was a fish, out of water. It was exceedingly uncomfortable.

I flopped about, my gills gasping for water until Jesus unceremoniously plopped me into the pond. I gulped deep breaths of water. Much better! What in the world was all that near-suffocation about? I swam a bit and was delighted to discover how well my new fins and tail worked.

Jesus dove in after me, now a fish Himself. “So what do you think?”

“If I’m going to be a fish, I prefer to be a fish in the water rather than out,” I said primly.

“Why’s that?”

“Fish are not designed to breathe air!” I slashed a fin downward, trying to emphasize my point, but mostly just flailing.


“They can’t function well without water. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of fish can’t survive outside it.”

“Aha, I see you’ve found another freedom-enhancing restriction.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. I floated there, my mouth opening and closing repeatedly as I cast about for a suitable reply. None came to mind. My only hope was that I just looked fishy, not ridiculous.

Jesus waited a few moments, then asked, “Shall we go find a fish to chat with?”

I tried to nod, and off we swam with Him leading the way. Here, flecks of something glimmered in the sunlight and the water was comfortably warm. Though it was murky, I found that I could see clearly enough. In fact, near the surface a plethora of bugs lingered. I thought hungrily of dinner, then brought myself up short. I may have looked like a fish, but I refused to eat like one.

The farther down we went, the gloomier and chillier it became. After a bit, we found a large fish swimming purposefully along with an air of self-importance.

“Excuse me, sir, could you spare a moment?” Jesus asked.

The fish looked us over and apparently decided we were worthy of his attention. “I suppose so. You are not denizens of our fair country. You must be from the other side,” he said, as though uttering a shrewd pronouncement.

I wished I’d had a fish-sized monocle to hand—or flipper?—him. It would have perfectly completed the picture of his pomposity. I stifled giggles lest I offend his self-importance.

“You’re right, we aren’t from around here. Would you tell us about your country?” Jesus asked pleasantly.

The fish bobbed up and down in the water. “Of course. It is always wise to familiarize oneself with the locality one is visiting. Our country is a delightful place, almost magnetic. Obviously, you must be aware of this fact since you, too, have been drawn here. Food is plentiful and so are neighbors. There are plenty of the right sorts of fish who make their homes here.” He seemed to swell ever so slightly. “I, myself, am a fish of some standing in the community and can recommend a hostelry, if you so desire.”

“Actually, we were wondering if you could tell us more about your country. Where are its borders?”

The fish stared at Jesus for a moment, as though trying to ascertain if his intelligence was being insulted. Apparently he decided that we must be applying to his magnificent wisdom, or perhaps were merely impaired in some way. In any event, he answered the question kindly. “The borders are, of course, the murk and the standing stones.”

“And what exactly is the murk?”

“The murk is part of the shallows, where the world is smaller.”

“Where the shallow water is?”

“Water? What is that?” he asked.

“Water. The liquid medium we’re moving through. Separate from the air.”

The fish’s eyes bulged out even more. “You’ve been talking to those frogs, haven’t you? Well, I’ve no time to waste on nonsense. I should have pegged you for that sort of fish immediately!” And with that, he harrumphed away, muttering something about troublemakers.

“I think that should be enough. Would you like to stay here, or shall we find somewhere warmer to talk?” Jesus asked me.

“I think I’m ready to be a human again, preferably one on dry land,” I said, thinking longingly of sunshine. The water was mostly dark now and getting cold as the sun continued to sink.

“Okay, let’s go somewhere more comfortable.”

Jesus swam toward a pile of large rocks in the middle of the lake. I wondered if these were said standing stones. He headed for a small tunnel in their midst, and I hurried after Him. The tunnel abruptly darkened, then I found myself standing, once more human, in a narrow hallway with Him. He opened a door in front of us and invited me in.

[i]       Keller, “Absolutism.”

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