3 Lent: Thirst

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          • Today’s reflection is rooted in
          • Isaiah 55:1-9
          • The poem, “All Thirst Quenched” by Lois Red Elk
          • The hymn, “Come to the Water.”

Okay, there is a problem with today’s Gospel.
They sentences are a series of non-sequiturs —
one thought does not flow from the next
and the second paragraph,
that claims to be a parable, isn’t.

In that first paragraph
Jesus seems to be echoing
one of his proverbial sayings:
”The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”
But then suddenly he is talking about repenting
or perishing.

In the second paragraph
we are told to expect a parable,
which is a contrast of two points — as in,
“the kingdom of God is like…”
But here we have a proverbial story
with an ambiguous punch line
and no contrast.
It is not a parable.

I could push and pinch and stretch
these two paragraphs to say something
but it would be a total manipulation.
I think it better to let them just lie there in the corner.
Meditate on them if you will
but I am honing in on “thirst.”

Isaiah, speaking for God, says,
”Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters…”
And the Native American poet
remembers the year
”all thirsts were quenched.”

So, two weeks ago it was fear.

Last week it was loss.
This week it is thirst.
Do you see a theme developing here?
(No? I don’t either).

But I do love, love, love
the lyrics to the hymn we just sang
and the tune also.
Obviously, “Come to the Water”
is based on that Isaiah reading.

O let all who thirst
Let them come to the water
And let all who have nothing
Let them come to the Lord:
Without money, without price
Why should you pay the price
Except for the Lord?

I love that.

But it doesn’t make sense either.
There ain’t nothing without price.
There ain’t nothing without price.
Everything we thirst for in other words,
everything that is valuable to us,
has a price.
There ain’t nothing without price.

And usually the price
is exactly what we do not want to pay.
We love our children to death
and what is the very thing
that loving them requires of us?
To let them go,
to let them fly.
To actually teach them
how to find their way in the world
even if that is far from us.

We love someone
who has an addiction
and we watch them
self-destruct little by little
until it is head over heels.
We want to stop them.
We want to heal them.
We want to fix them.
But what does love require
but to allow them to find their bottom —

if indeed, there is a bottom before death.
We can offer them every possible hope
and resource there is,
but they have to ingest it
instead of the substance
that is laying waste to them.

My back condition
reminds me of this
almost every daily.
I wake up in pain
and what is the thing
that makes it better?
Exercise. Exercises
that intensify the pain at first
until suddenly it is better.
The very price I do not want to pay
is the thing that must be paid
to satisfy the thirst.

What the hell?
Who made the world work
based on this equation anyway?

What is the substance
that truly slakes our thirst? Water.
What do we want? Anything but…
a cold beer,
an ice cold coke,
a scotch on the rocks,
a martini with an olive,
a dry red wine,
a hot cup of coffee,
or how about a thick chocolate milkshake…

We want so much,
so very much.
And yet, our most basic thirst
is the one
that gives us life.

Yes we need food,
less than many of us eat.

Yes we need drink,
less than many of us consume.

Yes we need shelter,
more basic than many of us support.

Yes we need clothing,
less than many of us wear.

Those things are what keep us breathing,
but then there is what offers us life
and makes life worth living.

Yes we need community,
but we would benefit from more of it
than most of us have.

Yes we need love, to love,
but we love less
than most of us could love.

Yes we need to be loved, to be loved,
but we probably receive less
than most of us
wish we had — certainly less
than we could enjoy.

We have a lot more
of the stuff that keeps us breathing
than we have
of the stuff that gives us life.

And that is because
money can buy us stuff for breathing
but it can’t buy us love
or life
or what makes life worth living.
Those things come with a price,
a price money cannot pay.

I’m not telling you
anything you do not know already.

and the things that make life
worth living
cost us.

They cost us vulnerability —
to allow ourselves, potentially, to be hurt.

They cost us risk —
to allow ourselves to actually feel pain.

They cost us humility —
to allow ourselves to see our own insignificance.

They cost us compassion —
to allow ourselves to feel-with others
even when there is nothing we can do for them
other than feel what they feel.

They cost us powerlessness —
to recognize when we cannot fix it
and to then look around and embrace
what we can do,
which is often simply be present.

They cost us the gift of dignity —
which is to see and feel and honor
the humanity
of the person in front of us
who is bleeding neediness and deprivation
of the most basic necessities,
and for us to care
and respond
no matter what we think of him or her,
no matter what we think of the reason
for their deprivation,
no matter what we think
is their long term prospect.

The gift of dignity,
the surrender to powerlessness,
the courage of compassion
the wound of humility
the strength to risk
and the resolve to be vulnerable…
These are the costs
of life
and living life more abundantly.

They are not a reflex of desire,
something we are attracted to.
They are not a price we love to pay.
They are not ever something
we go shopping for.

But they are
the source of life
and living life more abundantly.

Doggone it.

I do not know why we are made this way
or why our deepest thirst
is only slaked
by costs
we wish we did not have to pay.
But I do know
that is exactly the way we are
and the way it is for us.

Let us come to the water.