From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Life in the wilderness is, obviously, precarious. They have put their trust in God and in Moses and here they are in the middle of the desert, the hot sun beating down upon them. There is no water anywhere. It seems to many that God has all but deserted them. They had done exactly what they were told and now they thought they would surely die in the desert. And poor Moses. All he can do is listen to the complaining that is directed right at him. But what could he do? He can’t make water. He probably wishes that he could just run away. After all, whose idea was it to make him the leader anyway?
This is not some sort of metaphorical thirst. They were thirsty; there was no water. Thirst is perhaps the deepest of human physical needs. What does it mean to thirst for the things you need the most? It’s hard for us in the Western part of the globe to even imagine. (As I write this, I actually got thirsty and went and filled a glass with ice and filtered water out of the refrigerator door.) And yet, 780 million people lack access to clean and healthy water. That’s about 1 in 9 people in the world or about 2 1/2 times the population of the United States. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every four hours. And, amazingly, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day. Thirst is real.
But for those of us who are filling up our recycle bins with plastic water bottles, what does this mean for us? For what do we thirst? Again, don’t think of it as metaphorical. It is real. Maybe it’s not physical, but it’s real. For what do you thirst? For security? For a life of ease and plenty? For things to just make a little more sense? Do you thirst for life as you’ve planned it? Do you thirst for righteousness? For justice? For peace? For meaning? How many of us simply thirst to be alive, truly alive, in the deepest depth of our being? Being alive is thirsting for God, thirsting for the one who can walk us through grief and shadows and even death and give us life. It means that we thirst for the one who thirsts for us. Thirsting is the thing that makes us real.
Dag Hammarskjold wrote in his journal the words, “I am the vessel, the draught is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.” God is thirsty. God’s love for each of us is so deep, so intense, so desiring our response that it can only be characterized as a thirst. God, parched and dry, thirsts for our thirst. So, is the Lord among us or not? God knows everything about you. The very hairs of your head are numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to God. God has always been with you, always loved you, and always yearned for you to come into the awareness of God’s Presence in your life for which we strive, that sense of needing something more in the deepest part of you, so much that it leaves you parched without it. And, ironically, it means letting go of the need to quench your thirst. Because it is thirst for God that this journey is about. Ironically, we are not questing to quench it but to live it, to open ourselves to the waters that hold God’s creative Spirit. To thirst is to be. To thirst is to know in the deepest part of our being that we need God. To thirst is to be alive.
I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe my love for you: I thirst for you. I thirst to love and be loved by you—that is how precious you are to me. I thirst for you. Come to me, and fill your heart and heal your wounds…Open to me, come to me, thirst for me, give me your life—and I will prove to you how important you are to my heart. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at my heart that was pierced for you…Then listen again to the words I spoke there—for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: I thirst. Come to me with your misery and your sins, with your trouble and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to me, for I thirst for you. (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. I thirst.
On this Lenten journey, I pray that you thirst. I pray that you experience the deepest and most profound human need that you’ve ever experienced. I pray that you will know what it means to thirst for God. Because that is where you will most fully encounter God. But while we fill our recycling bins with plastic water bottles and quench our thirst with filtered waters from refrigerator doors, I implore you to be a part of projects to bring clean and sustainable water to areas of the world that do not have what we have, to those that truly experience physical thirst. There are many. If you feel so inclined, I would encourage you to visit the website for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (Advance # 3021026 is improving accessibility to clean water in Ghana.) Do what you can where you can.
Grace and Peace,