Both the Isaiah text and the Psalm poetically compare our physical need for water with our soul’s deep thirst for God. Thirst is powerful. If you saw Senator Marco Rubio’s live rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago, you know what I mean. The Senator’s mouth got drier and drier as he spoke, and we viewers could feel his demanding thirst coming through the television. Awkward as it may have been for him, we all felt relieved when he reached for the small bottle of water and took a sip.
We know the signs of mild dehydration: dry, sticky mouth, headache, light-headedness. A person can go days without food, but only a short time without water before the body begins to shut down. Water is essential to what makes us human, and it’s beautiful that our body is created to send signals to our brains that it’s time to rehydrate.
In her book, “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” author Cheryl Strayed, 26 years old and all alone, hiked 1100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail starting in the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon to the Washington border. As with most journeys, hers was more about the interior pilgrimage to her real self than an adventure in the outdoors. Never having hiked a day in her life, she started on the trail anyway, and as the author told it, she was unprepared and over-packed.
Strayed’s story recounts a great deal of emotional and physical pain along the trail—she tells frightening stories about facing down hunger, thirst, injury, fatigue, boredom, loss, bad weather, scary animals and even scarier men. The piece of her story that was the most memorable to me was the episode when she miscalculated the distance from one water hole to another, and with no water in sight, she described the desperation she felt faced with the real possibility of immobilizing dehydration.
In the summer of 2000, Tim and I with four friends took on the 3-Day, 60-mile Walk to end breast cancer. It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Even though we trained well, walking 20 miles a day was brutal. One of the relenting challenges for every walker was to stay hydrated. On the first day, it seemed like one minute all the walkers were just fine, and the next minute they were dropping like flies! Literally dropping like flies. The second day however we learned to listen to our bodies’ signals to drink more fluids.
Along the Grand Canyon trail there are reminders posted for hikers that read, “Stop! Drink! You are thirsty whether you realize it or not.”
If it’s difficult to recognize signs of our physical thirst, how much more difficult is it to recognize signs for our spiritual thirsts?
Maybe outside our church we should have a sign that reads, “Stop! Drink! You are spiritually thirsty whether you realize it or not.”
By its nature, life is tiring. We go though our days faithfully meeting our commitments, and feeling guilty for those we don’t. Taking care of business. Working hard, playing hard –when we can, studying hard, schlepping kids from one activity to another, shopping for groceries, spending so much money on food, and still coming out with nothing for dinner! (Is that just me? Does that happen to anyone else?) No wonder sleep studies show us to be under-rested and over-caffeinated. Our spirits are weary and thirsty, but do we (or can we) stop long enough to recognize the signs?
In Isaiah 55, the Jews had been exiles living outside of their homeland, Judah, for about years through the sixth century B.C.E. At the end of the Babylonian exile and at the beginning of Persian rule they were trying to make sense of their identity. They were weary and disoriented, their spirits were faint with thirst. Through this beautiful poetic language, God calls them home. Not only home to the land of their ancestors, but home to their God–the God of the Davidic Covenant. Their physical restoration to their homeland would also be their spiritual restoration. God’s poetic invitation was to come to a divine banquet where God the host would serve decadent food and drink to a people who had nothing to give in return.
Everyone who thirsts,
Come, to the waters.
You who have no money,
Come, buy wine and milk.
God is passionate about the health and wholeness of God’s people. Then and now! “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” God cares about how we earn our money and how we spend our money.
God calls us to do good work. Work that satisfies. Good work rooted in fairness and compassion; work that reflects the passions of God. Why? Not only because God’s concern is for the powerless and weak, but also because God knows that good work satisfies our deepest hunger and thirst for a meaningful life. It is not surprising that in midlife so many people question the value of what they are doing. Deeper questions of meaning surface. What is truly important? What of value and substance will out-live me when I am gone?
Isn’t it amazing that God posed these questions to God’s people 2500 years ago? “Listen, so that you may live.” Obey your thirst. Remember that Sprite campaign in the 1990s? Pro basketball players telling us to – Obey Your Thirst. (I heard they got that from the Bible.)
Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s own hunger and thirst for a world that reflected God’s justice. Jesus loathed those whose work oppressed the weak. Jesus warned that those who worked to accumulate wealth intentionally on the backs of the poor would be brought to justice.
God cares about our society’s pathologies. Our societal illnesses are manifest in many ways. We can see them in this current budget “sequester” (I thought we were still on a cliff). Congressional leaders are fighting about whose priorities will take precedence meanwhile people are suffering from job losses and home foreclosures. The well-being of our children is being jeopardized. Hunger is rampant in a country that spends billions on diet aids. Our educational systems are receiving failing grades. We are obsessed with buying things that we mistakenly hope will satisfy us. And all the while, rates of depression and suicide are rising. The joy of everyday life is sucked out of us, but on a slow drip.
Are we wise enough to recognize the signs that our collective spiritual life is drying up?
It will take more than mere water to quench that kind of thirst. As the fourth century Saint Augustine is often quoted: “The soul will not rest until it rests in God.” So too a soul’s dryness will not be satiated until it is quenched with God.
The psalmist cried, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
We’ve been singing, “Come, O Come and Fill this Temple” during Lent. When we enter the sanctuary to worship – even if it’s the solitary sanctuary of our hearts – we are to come into the presence of the Holy One. We are to Come and lift up our hungry hearts with unfurled fists.
Instead what we often drag with us into the sanctuary is our unanswered questions and disbelief, our petty grudges and anger, our fears and self doubts. The Psalmist ends with this: “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
Our spirits are renewed when we choose to cling to God who gives life and let go of what exhausts us.
As Christians, we profess Jesus as the Living Water and the true wellspring of Life. We never have to go far to drink in the nourishing water. But we will have to stop our frenetic pace for a few moments and turn our attention inward. That’s where we tap into the ever-flowing stream of life that God offers.
In the baptismal waters this morning, Ryan was given an identity as a child of God; affirmed as a beloved son; and filled with the Holy Spirit. He has been marked as God’s own forever. He’ll never have to go far to tap into the well of life-giving water that will quench his deepest thirst.
Are you feeling weary? Restless? Is your soul dry? Has life become monotonous like you’ve been wandering in circles in the wilderness? Or perhaps you feel like an exile in your own skin.
Lent is a forty-day invitation from the God of living water and promised resurrection to “Come”—to recognize your deep thirst and hunger, to practice more intentional silence and stillness, as John challenged last week. If you do, you might begin to recognize the signs: that indeed your tongue is dry and your body is weary. If you stay put, and stay open, you might discover the hidden spring in every wilderness–the living water that will slowly seep into your dry and weary soul.
“Stop! Drink! You are thirsty whether you realize it or not.”