There is something about moving water that uniquely stirs and soothes the human mind and soul.
Civilizations were built next to moving bodies of water: rivers, the ocean… in school we were taught that this was for utilitarian purposes like transportation and trade but maybe it was really for something more: an innate, spiritual, human need.
In fiqh studies one learns that the acts of wudu and ghusl and istinja must be done with “flowing” water, not simply water that touches.
In his book “Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Styles” M.A.S. Abdel Haleem points out in his chapter on Water in the Qur’an that the water in jannah is always described as flowing, never stagnant.
In Maine, the house we stayed in had no TV, radio, or WiFi. It was at the end of the street nestled in the woods on a small cliff overlooking the river, situated out on a point stretching into a large saltwater marsh where the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to being a moving river, it was also affected by the ocean tides so there were times of high and low tides when the river grew larger or smaller and the mud flats covered with small white snails and inhabited by underground clams were exposed or submerged.
We also spent considerable time at the nearby beach on the ocean, at both high and low tides; watching the waves in times of calm and times of wind; during rising, setting, and Noontime sun; on rocks and on beach sand; in solitude and alongside tourists, or locals walking dogs; pure and empty, and with sailboats and lobster boats anchored nearby. We even watched a large group of baby ducks ride the waves.
Moving water demands your attention. When it captures you, you no longer miss or feel the need to pick up your phone or turn on the TV. It may seem like there is nothing that changes about the non-stop flow of a river or the ebb and flow of the ocean but it only takes a few seconds for shadows, glints of light, changing currents, newly revealed rocks or shapes underneath, a leaf, a stick, a handful of flower petals, a bird, a new wave, a gentle lapping sound, a gust of wind, a bubble, or a receding or creeping shoreline to direct you to something new and intriguing.
Moving water is addictive in a way that soothes rather than drains. Like the flowing water of a wudu or a ghusl, it has a way of softening the gaze, purifying the mind, whispering to the soul, and cooling the heart.
I have seen many attempts to capture these effects with tabletop fountains or artificial ponds with sprayers attached to pumps. I suppose these are better than nothing but they are nothing in comparison to a real river or ocean.
Perhaps the cure to what ails us is found in the very thing that Allah has told us is an integral part of the beauty and mercy of Jannah. Perhaps we need to spend more time alongside rivers, streams, and oceans.