Easter 2: Jesus Keeps Showing Up.

Easter Sunday, when Eddie Wiggin showed up, none of us knew he was coming. Eddie is the son of a parishioner who was, until the time of his death, a very active and beloved member of the congregation. Their son Eddie was born with Down syndrome and when he first was born he was sheltered, hidden from the congregation, until a former priest of the church said, “Bring him to church.” He learned to serve at the altar, skills that I was impressed he had not forgotten. Eddie was pressed into service. The banner that his parents gave to the church was taken down and he carried it in procession. But he could not see in front of him so he had to be guided by Ed Hammond, an older man also with Down syndrome, into the church. The moment was priceless. The two could not see and so the last of the procession inched forward while the front of the procession had already arrived at the sanctuary. Up the aisle walked the young crucifer and torch bearers in front of the full choir, while Eddie, Ed, Jim Wilson, the associate priest, and I trailed along behind Eddie to the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen today. It was a holy moment, one that I had not anticipated. I know there were some who were dismayed at the slow pace of our banner bearers. Certainly they had their points. I was terribly spontaneous sometimes and enlisting the inexperienced Ed into the procession was a stretch. And yet his father had recently died in the hospital while I stood beside him with the doctor, an orthodox Jew, as we shut off the life support and we each held a hand while his heartbeat slipped away, his stepmother in the emergency room bed only twenty feet away. So when Eddie showed up, there was a rightness to have their son carry the banner that was given by them to the church. I walked entranced by the sheer poignancy of the event. The music continued until the two banner carriers reached the front of the church, and we clergy found out places. We could have gone home. It was enough, another homely incursion of Jesus through the locked doors of our hearts, breaking in to show us that what we do now is filled with the life of those who have gone before and those who will come after. And yet that day and so many times before and after, Jesus walked with us, slowly almost painfully coming with us up the aisle, walking with the two Eddies, two valiant  ones with good souls, leading the clergy, So there are times when we are the church and times we are akin to those frightened disciples behind bolted doors. And it is to that church also, to which the risen Christ comes. The risen Christ comes and says “Peace be with you.” And tells them he is sending them out into the world to be his hands and feet, wounded and yet holy instruments of the living God. Then he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, bestowing on them the power to forgive sins. Church is a gift from a God who refuses to leave us be. God comes to us. God’s presence makes the church. To the church who has nothing, Christ gives everything: Spirit, Mission, and Forgiveness. Church isn’t my hard work, your earnest effort, our long-range planning. Church is a gift, a visitation, an intrusion of the living Christ standing among us.* *The last paragraph is inspired by Tom Long..

Easter, “but the Tomb was Empty.”

I like to tell stories about people with Down syndrome, in part because my son Christopher was born with Down syndrome. Down syndrome people sometimes have a way of seeing the world differently than those of us so called normal people. And so it is sometimes helpful for us to approach life and scripture through their eyes. It is an education.

There’s an old story about a Sunday School class that was learning about the Resurrection. Among the children in the class was David, a boy of about seven who had Down syndrome. The teacher had gathered a number to Legg containers, the egg shaped plastic containers that held the uncomfortable, and I’m told, nylon stretch leggings that women used to slip onto their bodies into in order to be more beautiful.

The teacher asked the class, now children take this container and gather some sign of the Resurrection of New Life. The children went outside for it was a nice day in April and it wasn’t in unpredictable Vermont.  The children all returned and revealed their various discoveries and treasures of the signs of new life. One little girl scored a butterfly which she let out and it flew up and into the room and out a window, another a crocus, another a bud from an apple tree, and another a tuft of new spring grass.

When it came for David for him to open his Legg container, it was empty. “Oh David some of the children said, didn’t you see something that was the sign of new life?” The other children chimed in. David confused at their response, said, “ but, but the tomb was empty.”

As it happens with some children with Down syndrome, they are also born with a heart defect. David had such a heart and within a few months of the class, he died. At the church David’s coffin lay in state and each of the children came to his funeral and each carefully and reverently set their Legg containers, beautifully decorated, on David’s coffin.  All of them were empty.

As with Mary of Magdala, she came that first Easter and the tomb was empty. The only ones to have seen the resurrection were the angels. When Peter and John came they looked. Saw the empty tomb, turned around and left. Mary stayed and begged the gardener “tell me where you have taken him so I can finish dressing and anointing his body for burial.” It was then she heard her name, it was called in a voice that was familiar to her, and she saw Jesus. And that has been the way the faithful have experienced the presence of Jesus since that time. A voice, or a presence, or in what the Celts call the thin places that lightly separate us from the holy, Christ comes.

The tomb was empty, but Jesus keeps on showing up.

One Easter, before the opening hymn, I conspired to send three of the children to noisily open the front doors and to run down the aisle, joyfully calling, “Alleluia, Alleluia, He is risen.”  It was then that the long procession began. The Crucifer was one of our long tall teenagers followed by the torch bearers, and the choir singing, “Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia.

After the choir came the banner bearers. There ended up being two of them. They each had Down syndrome. Our regular crucifer at the eight o’clock service was Ed Hammond, he was nearing sixty and was showing the signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s, but he could still carry things and light the candles on the altar and receive the offering. He looked for ward to serve at the main service on Easter. Unexpectedly, David Wiggin showed up. David had Down syndrome and was now living in a group home in nearby Bridgeport. When he was a child David senior, his father, kept his son at home on Sundays.

One day the priest said to David, “Why don’t you bring him to church?” He sensed that the welcome was genuine and he began to bring David, Junior with him. David had been trained as an acolyte and Served on the altar for many years. The banner that was to be carried that Sunday was one that David and his wife May gave to the church only a few years before. It was big and blue and gold with a Golden Rooster that was the symbol of the Church because it had a six foot golden rooster on the top of the steeple that gave the direction of the wind to sailors passing out the river into Long Island Sound.

It was only a few weeks before that I held David senior’s hand as life slipped away from him after he had a cerebral hemorrhage. The Jewish doctor and I each with one of his hands removed the life support and each of us tenderly watched the monitor as his heart beat slowed and finally stopped. His wife Mae was only twenty feet away in the emergency room of the hospital. It was a holy moment.

So when David the son, showed up with an Aide, unexpected, I pressed David into service. We dressed him in an alb and sent him to carry the banner. We now processed down the aisle. The banner preceded the Gospel Book and the deacon, the Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and the two clergy.

But there was a problem, David couldn’t see in front of him, the banner was too big and he held it too low. So Ed Hammond guided him slowly and haltingly forward. The Crucifer and the choir were up ahead of us. The rest of us followed the two men with Down syndrome up the aisle, singing Jesus Christ has Risen, and slowly carefully led by the gentle and the innocent and vulnerable a learning disabled, the rest of us made it up the aisle into the sanctuary.

And during that slow time in the aisle waiting and wondering if the two would make it with the huge banner, there was a supreme moment of Joy. I thought we could go home now, Christ is here and now leading us in all our imperfections and resplendent beauty up and up to the holy, slowly halting step after halting step, we climb the stairs to enter into the presence of the living Christ who keeps on showing up in the most unlikely places and the most unlikely times.

So keep your eyes, ears, and hearts and minds open this day, this very moment, for Christ to come; slowly guiding you up and up with steps, to bring you into the heart of His great and generous heart of love.

On the way out we made our way with clergy and others as we followed the banner bearers and  danced to “Oh Happy Day” slowly clapping and  taking our time.

So remember to keep an ear peeled for the gardener.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer: April 9.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: April 9, 2014     bonhoeffer3

 

Both ML King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer died at the age of 39; Bonhoeffer in 1945 in a Nazi prison, the war in Europe would be over within weeks. Martin died in 1968, 23 years later. These two men of God were and are still some of the most influential theologians of our time.

You see some of the key issues after WWII were who is God, Who is the God that allows the suffering of human beings?  Where was God in the Concentration Camps and where was God in Hiroshima (one of the Christian communities in Japan) and Nagasaki? And where God is as men and women and children are beaten and lynched and refused service and equal access because of their race.

These questions were about healing: The healing of our broken hearts and the healing of the nations.

Bonhoeffer was a respected theologian who had been on a teaching tour prior to 1939 in the United States. He had a promised teaching position, I think, at Union Theological School, and seeing the evil in his homeland, from a prominent German family, his father an honored psychiatrist, Bonhoeffer returned to his homeland. It was here that he started the Resistance Church, wrote his famous book referenced later by King in a 1957 sermon (quoted later) called the Beloved Community. And also his seminal book The Cost of Discipleship and his Ethics.

 

In 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested because of his connection with a group who plotted and attempted an assassination of Hitler. For the next two years he lingered in prison and then on April 8th he was called from a celebration of the Eucharist and the next day hung, stripped of his clothing, on a wire.

Bonhoeffer became the theologian of resistance to evil and also the theologian who helped so many of us to come to terms with murderous insanity of the 20th century. The first was a call to resist evil at whatever cost. Bonhoeffer was erudite about the subject of evil and familiar with it from vast experience by the time he wrote his Letters and Papers from Prison, a work that was collected and published after his death.

The second break though for some of us at the time of our education in the 60”s was his theology of the suffering God, One who suffers with the whole creation. A God who not only gives us consolation in our desolation, but a God who needs to be consoled as He or She weeps over the cruelty of humanity towards one another. One paragraph from his Letters and Papers from Prison says,

“Jesus asks in the Garden, “could you not watch with me for an hour?’ That is the exact opposite of what the religious man or woman expects from God. Humans are challenged to suffer with God at the hands of a godless world.

He or she must plunge into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transfigure it. He must live a worldly life and participate in the suffering of God… It’s not religious act which makes a Christian what He or she is, but the participation with God in the sufferings of the world.”

The truth of this struck me one night as I awoke from sleep and thought how often I asked God for something, for consolation, for a suffering person in my family or congregation, and just then I looked and it was as if the God in Jesus was next to me and I took Him in my arms and let him weep for the world.  Yes, I know it’s weird, but there it was.

Elie Weisel reports an experience from this time. As a youth he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. They had strung up three people to serve as an example to what would happen if any dared infringe the rules of the Nazi overseers. One of the three was a youth and he was lighter than the rest. And because of that his neck didn’t break and his young body struggled on the wire. One of the men in the crowd murmured, “Where is God now?” The young Elie Weisel reflected to himself, “There, on the wire twisting and suffering with the boy. That is where God is.”

Here is a poem Bonhoeffer wrote from prison. I admire him as much for his vulnerability as for the power of his mind and his total commitment to be a human Christian in the midst of a world that has turned from the good.  The poem which is called, Who Am I, captures the spiritual place of many contemporary women and men, I think, very well.

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

 

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

 

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

The Day Martin was Killed: April 4, 1968

I lived in Roxbury above the sanctuary of St John’s and St James Church. Roxbury is one of Boston’s African-American neighborhoods. Henry, a Heroin addict, shared the upstairs with me.  A few days before, Henry sweat and shivered through withdrawal. I did what I could and then called an ambulance.

In the basement Allan Rohan Crite, the African American artist ran off his Sunday Bulletins. He engraved with a stylus on a wax plate and sent them through the A B Dick Mimeograph. It was incredible to watch the delicate man appear to make Angels fly off the page and a Black Jesus crucified under the El (trains) as commuters averted their eyes and passed by.Crite_Were_you_There.jpg_12-20-09_E6_6DG0D13

On April 3rd, the day before, our group had helped organized a massive demonstration against the war and a draft card burning. About thirty of us turned in our cards. They were sent to Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general at the time. My act was largely symbolic as I was exempt from the draft because my father had been killed in WWII. For me it was an act of resistance and to the mounting death toll in Vietnam.

On Thursday morning I made my way to the Subway that took me downtown and to the Arlington Street Church. We were to plan for the Sanctuary of two young enlistees who refused to return to active duty. Dates had been set and I returned to our office where we put together the newspaper. News arrived  that evening that Martin had been assassinated. We hastily planned a meeting the next morning and I returned home to Roxbury in the dark. The city was quiet and in mourning.

I had heard Dr. King only a few months before deliver a sermon he entitled simply: “Why I am Against the War in Vietnam”. Martin was working his sermon when I entered the sacristy to be introduced to  great and diminutive Rabbi Abraham Heschel. Heschel was revered by many of us seminarians for his work The Prophets, his stand with Martin in the South and his dedication to the life of prayer. To be in the presence of such eminence was powerful. I extended my hand and stuttered, “r-r-r Rabbi Heschel I am honored to meet you.” Martin did not look up from the text of his sermon. I was relieved. I would have been struck silent.

The meeting the next day was crowded. Three hundred of us were crammed into Arlington Street Church. Homer was one of the only Blacks in the room. Agitated and nearly in tears he left the room. I followed and returned to Roxbury. The Boston Police had amassed around Dudley Street Station in preparation for school letting out and to stop any attempts at a riot like the one that had burned down many of the businesses along Blue Hill Avenue less than two years before. I told the wise elders at the church that I wanted to go down to Dudley Street and monitor the police. They said, “No. You should not go out. It’s not that the Blacks are going to hurt you.” They said, “It is more dangerous for us in our own community; it’s the unpredictability of the police.” In my naiveté, I thought that as the grandson and great grandson of Boston cops, I had some imagined authority to be there as a monitor. There were no riots in Boston that day.

It wasn’t lost on us that Martin was moving still in another direction when he was shot;, organizing Municipal garbage handlers. We had just had the ground shaken from under our feet. The leader of one of the most powerful, influential and critical movements in the history of the land had been killed. We were learning that every effort to change the nation could be interrupted by an assassin’s bullet. We now had to learn to organize. Organizations could have many leaders and they could change. You couldn’t kill an organization by killing one leader. That is the direction many of us would take in the coming years, including the young College graduate, Barack Obama in Chicago twenty or so years later.

Martin in a sermon in 1957 in Montgomery Alabama at the height of the bus boycott made  a plea to Love One’s enemies: He refutes the idea that the love of one’s enemies is too idealistic and impractical.

“…we have followed the so-called practical way for too long now, and it has led

inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the refuge

of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of

our nation and the salvation of (hu)mankind, we must follow another way. This

does not mean to abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process

relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall

love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community”

 What had begun as a day of hope and resistance to the War in Vietnam ended in the dark night in the heart of the Black community in the city of my youth.  It became a time of evaluation of where we had been and where we needed to go. The killers had their practical way, now we would have to find another road, a road we have yet to take as a nation and a people. And yet there are many of us who have tried and bled on the way to some kind of truce.

We would try love with its twists and turns, its imperfections and failures. With Martin, we would try love.       .

Lent 5, “She’s Going To Be OK ” John 11:1-45

(You can connect to the readings for the Sundays of the year by typing RCL and the date or go to textweek.com)

I inherited my mother’s lateness. She, projecting her own propensity for tardiness, frequently told me, “You’ll be late for your own funeral.” “I hope so.” I joked.

I got better over the years, realizing that it is manipulative, passive- aggressive and just bad form and I didn’t have any of the excuses or hat-tricks that Jesus could conjure up. I can see how the sisters of Lazarus were truly angry that he had not come sooner.  John does not seek to show the pastoral side of Jesus. His focus is His power over death, to show how He was the Son of God.

Whether or not Jesus could raise a man from the grave after four days may or may not be possible. We know that sometimes people have stopped breathing and the heartbeat is too faint to register and they have been thought dead, but the point for John is that Jesus could do it. He had that kind of power. We may argue about the physical possibilities, and yet for those of us who have lived the life have seen evidence of the truth of His power many times. We have witnessed much of it through the hands and hearts of skilled healers of all kinds.  I’d be interested in hearing your stories. Here’s one of mine.

It was early, six or seven in the morning, when I received a call from a parishioner that their five-year old daughter was having a severe asthma attack and had been rushed to the Emergency room.  They were afraid they were going to lose her. It was my birthday.

“Not on my birthday,” I thought, “Lord, you’re not going to let her die on my birthday!!” I was adamant.

I arrived to the distressed parents in the waiting room of the Emergency Department.

“They can’t get her to breathe on her own,” the mother said.

“I’ll see if they’ll let me in to be with her.” I said.

The child lay on the litter. Her skin had turned ashen. She was hooked up to a respirator and I V’s dripped saline and other solutions. As I remember her heart still pumped. The Doctors and nurses looked worried and weary. I went to her body and blessed her, anointed her for healing or for burial, which one I didn’t know, and whispered in her ear, “Mom and Dad and I love you,” and I left the room shaken.

The parents and I found a room, lit by a wining florescent purple light. All three of us knelt and we prayed as hard and fervently as we had ever probably prayed. And as usual, but this time with a feeling of re-assurance the same conclusion came. First were the words of Jesus in the garden, you know, the night before he was crucified,  because we were with him in that moment,

“Not my will, but your will be done.” It’s remarkable how often those words come in these times of crisis.

And the second understanding we all had almost simultaneously was that she was breathing again.

“She’s going to be okay,” I said.

Jane and Chris, the parents, both nodded and said, “I know.”

“Thanks,” I said to myself, “for not letting her die on my birthday.” Of course it had nothing to do with me. I was just available when they called me in. But I swear on a “stack of Bibles” in various languages and translations, that the Holy Spirit visited us in that hospital waiting room as we prayed. It was one of those moments that they call faith as the “assurance of things not seen.”

Within a half-hour the doctor came in and told us we could visit her.

“She’s not out of the woods” he said, “but she’s doing well enough to transfer her to the Hospital at Yale.”

We went into the room and the child was sitting up, her color had returned.  She was moved to Yale-New Haven Hospital and I had asked her what she would like to have as a treat when she was allowed to eat?

“A burger and fries and a chocolate shake,” she told me with a big smile.

That night on the way to celebrate my birthday, I walked into the room with the requested feast. She fully recovered and is now twenty two, and healthy and still a child of the light. And she hasn’t had an asthma attack since that day.

To See with the Third Eye, the Eye of the Heart: 4th Lent

Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary: Search RCL for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, John 9:1-41

Miss Grant told our sixth grade class, “There are none so blind as those who will not see”. I don’t think she unpacked the quote for us or where it originated, but it is a fair paraphrase of Jesus in John’s gospel. For the last four weeks in John’s Gospel, Jesus confronts issues of spiritual and emotional blindness, of suffering and disabilities and their root causes and the spiritual blindness of the religious authorities. John also picks a bone with the synagogue that has refused membership to those who believed Jesus was the Christ. While Jesus may not have always been gentle with the religious authorities, I doubt he harbored any lasting resentment toward them. Let’s forget John’s hurt at the exclusion of the early Christians from the synagogue. The Jews were going through their own identity crises. There are  Pharisees and disciples, the blind men and women and their parents, and a bit of Jesus is in all of us. The story is as much about our own spiritual blindness as it is about the man born blind.

In Jesus time, either the man was blind because he was a sinner or his parents or some ancestor was. Jesus refutes that argument and says “The man was born blind to show the works of God.” A child who is born blind does not know he or she is blind. To be blind is normal. The blind child navigates the environment as does any infant, but with touch and hearing taste and smell and vibrational movement of the air, whatever works. You have to be told you are blind. Interestingly to me, Jesus usually asks if one wants to be healed. Jesus simply goes and makes a putty of dirt and spit and anoints the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. (Look it up. Interesting) The cure of the man’s blindness is really a subtext to the story which is really about the blindness of the others who refuse to accept what has happened and the remarkable power of the healer. The blind man is very wise, very simple and wise.  Speaking to his interrogators, he says about Jesus, “I don’t know who He is or where He came from. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.”  How can I get my eyes to open? How may I see with the eyes of the heart?

Maybe Miss Grant’s quote held one of the secrets to inner sight, to wisdom; “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” Will, the will to see, yearn and desire to see with the eyes of the heart. Eastern religions have a place for the third eye. It is in the forehead between and above the eyes. It is that third eye that is looking at the divine and though which the divine sees. In Christian tradition the third eye is to “have the mind of Christ.” And it is more a heart looking, a looking out at the world and the other and ourselves with mercy and love, with a sense of our responsibility to walk with integrity and justice, a heart of forgiveness, humility and joy. Joy is often one of the results of this heart seeing. It is a by product of that looking when the blindness is lifted that joy comes and dwells with us. That vision consoles as we look with they eyes of the heart at the great losses of our lives, and what peace and joy may come as we live with gratitude for it all. If we had not loved we would have no grief.

It’s like a weight watchers diet, you have to will it, keep to a discipline, yuck, and go to meetings and weigh yourself in to keep track of your progress. One of the joys of seeing with the eyes of the heart is that sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, maybe daily, these visions of life and hope and beauty and love come. All that you need to do is open to them, open the eyes, take off the scales and see with love.

Herbert O’Driscoll when he was at the College of Preachers in Washington, DC, told us that we can see Jesus as a template, a transparent image who we place between ourselves and the people and situations we meet. I used the image one Sunday and then Martha came up to me after the service. “I have to be in a situation I dread tomorrow. I recently began to work with a re-constructive surgeon. Tomorrow I have to meet a man who tried to kill himself with a gun and destroyed part of his face. I am afraid to look at him, but I’m going to try what you suggested.”  “Wow, let me know what happens.” I said.

The next Sunday she came to me and said, “It worked! I imagined the face of Jesus and I placed it on the man who came into the office. I saw his hurt, his disfiguration, and his humanity. I found I was looking at him with eyes of love.”

After a while this way of seeing becomes a practice and a way of looking at life and people and situations as if they were all being held in the arms of God, protected and cherished.  You will discover that “I am looking with the eyes of love.”

To see with such eyes is also to see with discernment.  Martha saw the dis-figuration which he caused to himself, his sorrow and his humanity which I imagine included his desperation at his isolation from the world. If ever a man needed to be seen with they eyes of God, he did.

In Vermont where I now live a woman was attacked by her husband with acid. Her face and parts of her body were severely disfigured. She came to church to talk with us one day. It was hard for me to look on her scarred face neck and hands. I looked and I not only saw the evil that caused her such extreme and ongoing suffering, but also her courage and determination to tell her story and to bring the living reality of the abused into the stark morning light. Since then she has had some reconstructive surgery, perhaps at the same practice where Martha worked in Boston.  She will not return to her former physical beauty, but more of her body will work. She continues to spread her message. I hear her on the radio and I think she was the presence and work of God that morning in the church in Randolph, Vermont, a reminder of how important it is to see with the eyes of the heart and sometimes how intensely painful and difficult it can be. And yet sometimes that opening comes.

We call her Grace.

 

Thirst. 3rd Lent

John 4: 5-42

We were twice routed around Nablus where Jacob’s Well is believed to be located.  A suicide bomber would blow up an outdoor market in the city within weeks of our visit.

The well evidently still contains water three thousand or so years after it was dug by Jacob. The water is known as “living water” because it is fed by underground springs. Water in that part of the world is precious and in danger. Access to clean water in many parts of the world has reached crisis proportions. In India, a primary source of spring runoff for the Ganges, Indus and Yamuna Rivers, the ice sheets in the Himalayas are melting away.  A well in any of these places with “living water” is not only prized but sacred.

"Give me a drink". from Textweek with thanks

“Give me a drink”. from Textweek with thanks

The encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well is probably not an actual dialogue between the two main characters. It is John looking back and remembering the transformative power of Jesus as he interacts with people on his journeys between Galilee and Jerusalem. The story is a meditation on the meaning of what it means to thirst, on Living Water that does not fail, on the relationship of Jesus with women, on the nature of the religious community without the temple and on the ability for Jesus the Son of God to see us.

The one other time Jesus asks for a drink of water is when he is on the cross. For what or who does the woman, who represents all those who need to be seen and valued, thirst?  I have always loved the banter between these two bright and funny adults.  Jesus was thirsty. “Give me a drink.” The woman responds, “What are you a Jew doing talking to a woman?” “If you knew who I am you would know that I could give you living water”. “How will you get this water? You have no pail, no cup.”

What is the living water Jesus gives or for what or who do we thirst? It is to see God in the water; To see water not only as a commodity, but as a gift of the divine. The water we have on the earth today is the same water that has existed from the beginning. There is no more or less.  It has materialized in different forms, ice, sea water, fresh springs, lakes, rain, snow, rivers, bogs, and it is all a gift of life, the spirit of God hovered over the creation over the waters at the very beginning. Like the air we breathe we are made of water and the spirit. Water infused with Spirit. We might as well say in the burial office, “water to water, spirit to spirit” because our bodies are composed mostly of water.

The woman at the well has known this thirst. She has lost four husbands; she now lives with a man who is not her husband. She is under the puritanical eye of her culture, judged and unseen. She is a remarkable survivor, yes, and one with a thirst for more.  She thirsts for the One who is to come to make all water Living Water, all air the breath and spirit of God, all relationships the container for the holy and our eyes to see with the eyes of God. The water we drink is from the deep well of the Holy, the thin place where we are close to the divine.

That water, the pure living water, for which we thirst, is in danger. It has been our brokenness and our divorce from the sacred well that has harmed the water of life and life on our planet. Can we, will we with the help of God begin to turn around?  Can we begin to see with the eyes of the heart?

When Mary Oliver’s partner of many years died, she wrote a series of poems entitled Thirst. Her reflections are the thirst to see and perceive with such eyes.

THIRST

Another morning I wake with thirst

for the goodness I do not have. I walk

to the pond and all the way God has

given us such beautiful lessons. O Lord,

I was never a quick scholar but sulked

and hunched over my books past the

hour and the bell; grant me, in your

mercy, a little more time. Love for the

earth and love for you are having such a

long conversation in my heart. Who

knows what will finally happen or

where I will be sent, yet already I have

given a great many things away, expect-

ing to be told to pack nothing, except the

prayers which with this thirst, I am

slowly learning.