“If you are thirsty, come and drink.” This is the invitation of sacred scriptures that is echoed across the major faith traditions. The invitation speaks to our deepest longing for sacred presence.
What is this mysterious thirst? What is this yearning that never seems filled? My sense is that it is longing for sacred presence. It is best described by the word parousia (Greek: παρουσία). Parousia literally means presence. Presence is a word filled with sacred expectancy. While it connotes the future (as in ‘the second coming’), it encompasses that which is now and that which is past. Presence is at once the past, the future, and the present. It is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.
It is an awakening process to even become aware of our thirst. This past Tuesday evening, I quietly entered the studio space for a Tai Chi (tai chi chuan) class. This ancient Chinese movement practice draws me to my center. I become aware of being very thirsty even as I prepare for movement. Exercise does not make me thirsty. Mindfulness brings me to awareness of my own thirst. In this space of centering, I become quickly aware of my own thirst. My body is thirsty. It craves water. But, my spirit also thirsts. It is yearning for more.
“If you are thirsty, come and drink.” The words are spoken by Aslan, the Great Lion. The Silver Chair is one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It recounts a metaphorical journey to liberation from darkness and imprisonment. “Are you not thirsty?” asks the Great Lion.
The invitation is so simple, so direct, and so life transforming. Filling our thirst, is as simple as bending and scooping living water from the stream. There is plenty for all. But, then there is that lion presence hovering over the stream. Will we be consumed by our search to satisfy our mysterious thirst? Jill’s effort to extract a pledge that she will not be eaten by the lion if she satisfies her search is futile. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” says the Lion. Still, Jill must drink. There is no other stream.
In the Gospel of John, the Samaritan woman at the well, hears the promise of Jesus: “If you drink of this water I give you, you will never thirst again.” The risk of filling our mysterious thirst is a life that is totally transformed. We will never be the same when we drink from living waters.
This mysterious thirst is not about religiosity. This mysterious thirst is never quenched by a doctrine, a theology, or a prescribed path of devotion. Our thirst is about our own redemption and the redemption of creation. It is about restoration of right relationship. This mysterious thirst is about our longing to return to the essence of who we are. Our yearning is for that which is sacred (holy) in ‘ordinary’ life. We are created for sacramental living. This is described byAlexander Schmemann as ‘the eucharistic life.”
Dare we drink from the cup filled with life and joy? Dare we fill our thirst? As long as we live out of the dualism of sacred vs. secular, our thirst will never be filled. In dualism, we are left disputing whether the cup that half-full or half-empty. The sacramental-living cup that fills our mysterious thirst is never empty. In fact, it is never half-empty. This is abundance beyond measurement.
Endless religious controversies co-opt our journey to satisfy our mysterious thirst. Fundamentalist religion offers cheap remedies for the thirsty longings of our heart. But, there is no shortcut. We must live into, rather than diminishing the mystery. Living water is never bottled, labeled or stocked on a grocery shelf. Living water is not found in a dispensary in a religious sanctuary.
The best place to find the living waters that truly satisfy our living thirst is in the dry and thirsty desert. The mystics show us the way to the dry desert. Here, we leave behind all the distractions that leave us unaware of our own thirst.
If we wish to satisfy our thirst, let us join in with those who are thirsty. Satisfying our mysterious thirst must be a relational practice. This is a practice that requires abandoning cheap imitations of thirst quenchers.
It is in the bare terrain of the desert that we discover parousia (presence). This is the place of desert wisdom. In the desert–the place of the inner journey–we are never alone. Our companions are the Masters, Teachers, Saints and Guides who journey with us to the recesses of the human heart. Satisfying our mysterious thirst is more than a personal quest–it is clearly a practice to be undertaken with companions.
We need only look around us to see polluted waters. The world screams with offers of products, pathways and precepts designed to quench our mysterious thirst.
Let us go up-stream finding our way deeper into the journey to discover living waters. When we reduce sacramental living to doctrinal disputations, we are no longer stooping to drink from living waters. “If you are thirsty, come and drink.”
Drink Till You are Full *
do not drink from
stirred up by those
crazed with thirst
who jump in blindly
thrashing in the
throes of religions;
stoop and drink from
springing pure and
it is the same stream,
the same thirst,
the same source;
but why not go
drink more fully
till you are full?