—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020
This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.
When I was a child, my family had a lot on a lake. At first, we camped there in a tent, then we had an old trailer and a home-made camper. Then, my brother’s tree house, tree palace, really, for size, was taken down from the tree and it traveled to the lake lot where it became another room. In the end, we built a house there for my parent’s retirement. It was always the lake that was the draw. The lake and the fire pit. These were the two forces of this place. We talked about going to the lake when we discussed long weekends and vacations.
The lot was on the western shore of a large lake, 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. So, in the morning, when the sun was coming up, the dock received the first sun. With mist rising off the water and gentle waves lapping against the bank, I would sit on the warming dock, wrapped in a towel, waiting for the day to get warm enough to plunge into the water. The bottom of the lake here was sandy with a few toe-stubbing rocks. I could spend hours floating, swimming, rock hunting at the wave’s edge, and rowing our small aluminum boat along the shore. If someone would go with me, we would row a mile to the islands in the middle of the lake and explore them. My favorite times were sleeping all night in the hold of the sailboat we anchored in the shallow water. The gentle action of the waves, the sound of the loons, and the brightness of the stars were beauty enough to contend with the mosquitoes that whined in our ears and bit our faces.
In the early days, we drank water right out of the lake. As time went on, we had a well drilled and fitted with a hand pump. We were never thirsty. There was water, everywhere, to drink.
In fact, I don’t remember being thirsty as a child. There was a small aluminum drinking cup on the bathroom sink and we all drank from it whenever we were thirsty.
When I got older and began hiking, I knew what thirst was. We could no longer drink the water from the streams along the paths. So, we carried water wherever we went. But, sometimes, we underestimated the amount of water we might want on a hike. Or, we thought there would be water available somewhere along the way and the spring or stream, when we found it, was brackish or dry. Then, the only thing to do was to keep walking until more water was found. We couldn’t camp until we found water. Only one time, have I ever camped without having enough water for supper and breakfast in my water bottle.
We don’t realize how precious water is and how necessary, when it is so readily available in plastic bottles and at fountains in public places. In the last five years, we have become more aware of the preciousness and elusiveness of clean water, here in our Water Wonderland of Michigan. The poet, W. H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” Thirst is the gift given to us so that we are never without the water we require for life. Being thirsty is an apt metaphor for our longing for the Presence of Christ.
The story from Scripture is about the children of Israel in the wilderness. They have just left Egypt, moving from campsite to campsite as God directed them. God has already provided clean water for them to drink at the springs of Elim and food in the wilderness in the form of manna. Now, God stops them at Rephidim and there is no water. Can you imagine a large group of people gathered in the wilderness being asked to make camp where there is no water? Understandably, they began to panic.
But, Moses does not. But, he reacts to their request as if they are accusing him of being unfaithful to them. Remember, God has already provided both water and food for the people. So, their demand, “Give us water to drink,” can be seen as a further demand that God prove that he is, indeed, divine and as “their god,” cares for them as a god should.
We must remember that this people has only just learned to trust their god. They have had to be convinced to leave Egypt and then only departed when the Pharaoh demanded that they leave so that the plagues will end. They are then chased by Pharaoh’s army, ostensibly so he can bring them back. They miraculously walk through the Red Sea and see that army washed up on the beaches the next morning. Then, the real hardship of their journey sinks in. None of them knows where they are going. They are not practiced nomads as their ancestors Abraham and Sarah were. They are not skilled in wandering. So, here they are at Rephidim with no water.
Read Exodus 17:1-7. Imagine you are with the Israelites on their journey. Feel with the people what it must have been like. Then imagine Moses’ frustration. For each of these people, put your feeling into your body. (For example, sigh heavily and audibly or raise your shoulders and clench your jaw. Make your eyes look like you feel.)
Now, re-read v. 6. Where was God? What was God’s way of dealing with both the people and Moses? Imagine how you would have felt as Moses or the people. Let your body feel that way, too.
Spend some time in prayer reflecting on your own demands of God. Are there situations about which you are impatient for God to act? Do you sometimes demand before you look to see that God is already providing?
If you can, set a glass of water in front of you but don’t drink from it. Try to feel what it is like to be thirsty. Our bodies give us wonderful signals telling us that we need to drink. Jesus used this image of thirst in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” Matt. 5:6. I once lamented to a mentor that my spiritual life felt dry and empty. He responded: “That’s wonderful. Hold onto the hunger and thirst. The promise is that you will be filled.” I was taken aback at his words, but over my lifetime, I have come to regard them as wisdom for the journey. Only when I know my need, will my desire for God be satisfied.
The psalmist feels this way when he writes:
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? -Ps 42:1–2.
Notice your glass of water. Don’t drink. Just be thirsty. Pray with the poet: “I want more love, / Which is to say, / more God,” (Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul).