Tuesday, January 1, 2008
WATER IN DRY PLACES
O God you are my God: eagerly will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you: as a dry and thirsty land where no water is.
My soul is thirsty for God, thirsty for the living God. Blessed are those whose strength is in you: in whose heart are the highways to Zion; who going through the valley of dryness find there a spring from which to drink.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
Behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple... this water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, 'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'
All my fresh springs are in you.
(Psalm 63: 1-2; Psalm 42: 2; Psalm 84:5-6 -- all The Psalms, A New Translation for Worship; Isaiah 41: 18; Ezekiel 47:1 and 8; John 7: 37-38; Psalm 87:7 -- all RSV)
The predominantly arid nature of Australia and the prevalence of drought mean that many Australians know what it is to be in a dry and parched place. The very ground cries out in its desolate need for water.
The Psalmist can see in his dry surroundings a vivid image of his own thirst for God. The farmer longs for the sound of the drops of rain on the roof: otherwise he faces ruin.
The flow of God's spirit seems at times to be withheld from me. The memory of other times of refreshment and comfort only serve to increase my feelings of dryness. My sins, committed in moments of angry despair and impatient self-centredness, only serve to aggravate my sense of desolation. 'Where is your God now?'
Do not withhold your mercy from me, my God. Refresh and water me in my dry state. Penetrate the hard layers; soak me with the waters of your Spirit. May I not be satisfied with anything less, any temporary respite.
Jesus thirsted to do your will. In the scroll of the book it is written of me that I should do your will: O my God, I long to do it; your law delights my heart.
Give me that heart that longs to do your will. There is no other way for me.
What amazes me about you, Lord
is that the source of your love
doesn't dry up.
There is always more.
'Inexhaustible, incomprehensible, incalculable'
-- big words those.
We use them as we use you;
but still there is more.
Our needy souls sustain
with fresh supplies of love
'My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?' (Psalm 42: 2). The thirst of this poet is not unique. It is universal. Just as these bodies of ours are not self-sustaining, but must be watered and fed from resources external to themselves, even so it is with our souls. If our bodies do not have physical food and water, they will hunger and thirst and die. Just so, if our souls do not have God, the Bread of Life and the Water of Life, they, too, will hunger and thirst and die.
Clovis Chappell, 'The Great Thirst'
Fr Dimitri Dudko, a Moscow priest, asked the young people of his congregation to write to him to tell of their experiences in coming to faith. The following is a letter which he received and subsequently read to the congregation:
Dear Father Dimitri,
You asked your young parishioners to describe their path to faith. So I'm writing to you about myself.
The people in my family are deeply atheistic by disposition. Even my grandmother and grandfather were non-believers. From childhood I learned my lesson well that God is just a fable invented by ignorant people.
The more I thought about what lay around me, the more clearly I saw and understood that everything is gibberish, not worth a brass farthing. So I came to the point of rejecting everything and everyone. Concepts such as conscience, truth and morality were empty to me...
Nothing made me really happy. Nothing was pleasant. I started to drink. You get drunk and things get a little easier. The longer it went on, the longer it took me to get really smashed. On my days off I'd drink myself unconscious.
I got away with everything for a while, but you always reach the end of your rope. It all came very simply and very quickly. I got drunk, got into a fight and found myself in jall.
There was this guy in my cell, a Baptist who prayed a lot and would always cross himself before meals. Many people -- including me -- mocked him for this. Out of boredom I dragged him into a dispute over religion. At first, I just let my words run away with me, interspersing facetious comments about how old women just thought God up. He answered every one of my flippant arguments seriously. His unshakable conviction that he was correct began to irritate me. Soon -- just for the fun of it -- I began defending atheism seriously, proving by whatever means necessary that God could not exist.
I really couldn't have cared less either about God or atheism. I just wanted to break his confidence -- that was the main thing. Arrogance pushed me on. And I achieved what I wanted. My cell-mate stopped talking. He fell silent, and then began to cry. He began praying that his faith would be strengthened.
I felt no satisfaction in my victory. A horrible weight fell upon me. I felt sick, like I'd done something mean to someone. And he just kept on praying, but more calmly now. Suddenly he looked at me and smiled. I was amazed at his face -- there was something joyful about it, pure, like it had been washed. The weight immediately fell from my soul, I understood that he had forgiven me. And then a light of some sort penetrated me, and I understood that God exists. It wasn't even so much that I understood, but that I sensed it with my whole being. He exists! He alone has always been and will always be. He is everywhere. He is our Father! We are his children, brothers one to another. I forgot that I was in prison and felt only one thing -a great joy and thankfulness to the Lord who revealed himself to me who am unworthy.
After this a strange and radiant thing happened to me. As a non-believer, I had read the Bible but had always hit on the 'dark and incomprehensible'. For me, the Scriptures were 'woven of contradictions'. After I came to believe, each word of the Gospel was filled with meaning for me, close to my mind and heart.
From Light through the Curtain
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd any thing.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here':
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
George Herbert, 'Love'
I heard the voice of Jesus say, 'Behold I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live.'
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that live-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.
God is as near as our burning thirst. We do not have to wait for some far-off tomorrow to find him. He is ready to meet our needs in the here and now. And nobody can rob us of our finding him but ourselves. This is Jesus' amazing claim. Shall we take him seriously and drink and live, or shall we go on our feverish way feeling that his promise is altogether too good to be true?
Clovis Chappell, 'The Great Thirst'
The residual essence of religious devotion is that the object of one's dedication is the All. The poet wrote, 'O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.' (Psalm 63: 1). The saintly Fenelon said, 'We must be God's without any reservation. When we have found God, there is nothing more to look for in others. We must sacrifice our best friends. The good friend is within our heart. He is the bridegroom who is jealous and who does away with all the rest.' Fenelon was archbishop of Cambrai and tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, but the profligacy of the court of Louis XIV in which he lived was spiritually as weary and waterless as the Babylon -- real or fancied -- of our poet.
Edwin McNeill Poteat, Interpreter's Bible
Tu nos fecisti ad te, Domine,
et cor nostrum inquietum est,
donec requlescat in te.
You have made us for yourself, Lord,
and our heart is restless
until it rests in you.
St Augustine of Hippo
Lord, you have often refreshed me in dry places. I had gone along with little sense of your presence, then found an unexpected experience of grace. I cannot deny that you have worked through me -- I've seen the results, but all quite out of proportion to my state of preparation and the shallowness of my prayer. Time and time again, I've seen good things happen even under my own hand. Thank you for including me in your purpose, when I've done little to deserve it, and much to spoil and frustrate it.
Give me fresh springs of joy in the dry places of my being; then I shall be able to minister grace to others in all kinds of circumstances.
May God in the plenitude of his love pour upon you the torrents of his grace, bless you and keep you in his holy fear, prepare you for a happy eternity, and receive you at last into immortal glory.
Blessing at the Consecration of Coventry Cathedral
This is chapter 29 from Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross Lion).