Layer upon layer of life uncovered, we marvel at the excavation sites in Israel, this land of our spiritual ancestors. The sun bears down from a hard blue sky and we are grateful for hats and water as we wander among the ruins of fortified cities: walls of carefully pieced stone, pottery shards, caves, wells, altars, storehouses, the outline of shops and homes, the pavement of streets once trod by dusty sandaled feet. I cannot but wonder at the lives our forebears led from day to day, what were their dreams, what sense they made of their world, what provoked their laughter or tears, whether they looked with longing toward far-off mountains and valleys, what they passed on to their children as of first importance, what passions stirred their hearts.
One thing I can know for certain, and I see it as clearly as though it were inscribed on the gates of the ancient settlements: in this arid country, there was no higher priority than access to water. Survival depended upon proximity to springs, pools, waterfalls, and seas. Cisterns were dug, tunnels bored through solid rock, aqueducts constructed, and channels carved out. To reduce a city to nothing more than a mass of weakened, desperate, groveling beggars, a conqueror had only to cut off the source of this precious living water. Without it, neither plant nor animal life could be sustained. Without it, there was only death.
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I find myself weary, anxious, confused, guilty, filled with the grief of a thousand heartbreaks. I thrash about seeking relief but find none. I drink the polluted water of false comfort and find I am thirstier still. My soul is like the scorched ground, dry, hollow, desperate for rain. I echo the words of the psalmist: Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint; heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish…I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow. (Psalm 6)
To whom shall I go for my soul’s refreshing?
I raise my head slowly at the sound of his voice, this God-man whose eyes survey the landscape of my heart. His words spread outward like quiet ripples through the stillness. Who I am is of greater importance than the mistakes I have made, he tells me, greater than the circumstance in which I find myself, greater than the losses I have suffered or the tragedies I have witnessed. He gathers me in his arms and for a moment I can see through his eyes. In the quiet of communion, I find solace. He walks beside me in my descent to the depths of sorrow and weeps with me there. He lifts me to my feet and awakens long-forgotten dreams. He restores the richness of laughter and hope, inspires joy in the feast of life, and assures me that I am more than a passing shadow. I am made in the image of the divine, and death no longer has the final word.
I come near and receive the cup he holds to my parched lips: Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (The Gospel of John, chapter 4)
God, my Father, I kneel before you. Let me drink deeply from the cup in your hand.