3 Lent Year A 3-23-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Exodus 17:1-7; Ps. 95; [Romans 5:1-11], John 4:5-42
We harden not our hearts as our forebears did in the wilderness, O God our God, at Meribah – “the Place of Quarrels” – and Massah – “the Place of the Test” – when we tempted you, when we put you to the test though we had seen your works… Forgive us our faithlessness! Take us into your rest! AMEN.
The Living Water of Lent. Have you drunk of it? Have you yet found its source?
I’m going to begin this morning with a poem of the Sufi poet Rumi, who lived in the early 1200’s, an era when there was much cross-fertilization of Christian, Jewish & Muslim life in his region of Persia. It’s a poem I received by spending a meditation morning at Bethany House in Arlington the day after the Bishop Walkabouts were over, a poem used in the Thursday Contemplative Prayer there. I invite you to approach it as if you were entering the realm of prayer. Settle back. Close your eyes if you like. Let the flow of words pour over you. Don’t seize after meaning. Let the images float into you.
This world-river has no water in it.
Come back, spring. Bring water
more fresh than Khidr, the Green Man,
the Islamic guide to the Water of Life,
or Elijah knew,
from the fountain that pulses
in the well of the soul.
Where water is, there bread arrives.
But not the reverse.
Water never comes from loaves.
You are the honored guest.
Do not weep like a beggar
for pieces of the world.
The river vanishes because of that desiring.
Swim out of your little pond.
Go where all the fish are Khidrs,
where there are no secondary causes.
That water rises in the date tree
and in the roses in your cheek.
When it flows toward you,
you will feel a deep contentment.
The night watchman shakes his rattle
as part of his fear.
You will not need him anymore.
Water itself guards the fish
That are in it.
[“Water from the Well of My Soul,” Rumi; Bethany House of Prayer]
So how is Lent going for you, halfway in? Is the night watchman still shaking his rattle in your fear? Is your world-river dry? Have you yet “swum out of your little pond?” Have you discovered even a little spring in the well of your soul? Or is the mud still hard at the bottom? Benedictine nun Joan Chittister says, “Lent is our salvation from the depths of nothingness. It is our guide to the more of life.” [Bethany House of Prayer] Are you still parched and floundering on the bank of nothingness? Is the “more of life” rising in you as the brooks are rising out of the ground in the first spring thaw in Maine?
If Lent is the invitation into “the more of life,” as Rumi describes it, what does that invitation look like in your life right now? In mine, the “more” of the bishop discernment, with its five days of “walkabouts” – three straight hours a day of talk-talk-talking for five consecutive days, seven rooms of questions per day, thirty-five twenty-minute intervals of my words, bubbling and chortling out of me like a spring brook, attempting to answer with authenticity whatever has been asked without having the chance to know the questioner and the questioner’s underlying concerns, each answer necessarily constrained to three minutes or less; in total, upwards of 300 soundbites of my theology, spiritual grounding and experience, my vision of God’s Mission and strategic sense of how to get there – all that “more” has been TOO MUCH, pitching me right over the edge into unmanageability! This little Khidr fish was thrown RIGHT OUT of her pond and ‘way down the road! Any water to hold me was going to have to emerge STRAIGHT OUT OF THE ROCK!
And I suspect that’s how Moses felt, most of the time he and the people of Israel spent wandering around in the wilderness, seeking the Promised Land, as gradually the memory of the miraculous liberation from Pharoah got swallowed up in the misery and uncertainty of the present moment, their present trials; serpents crawling around; heat unremitting; food and water so scarce there was no knowing where or WHETHER either might show up next. No wonder the people start to grumble and whine and kvetsch and quarrel with each other and with Moses! No wonder he threw up his hands and complained to God, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”
And then Jesus, sitting by the well in the baking sun of noonday in alien Samaritan territory, and, violating all kinds of prohibitions against speaking with either Samaritans or women, asks the Samaritan woman – already clearly designated as troublesome in that she must seek water at sweltering midday and not with the other women in the cool of morning or evening – for a drink. The whole of this story of John’s is deliciously confusing. Jesus is the Living Water, yet he needs the woman to help him to a drink from the Jacob’s deep well. The woman is outcast even to her own people, yet Jesus chooses her as his Prophet, his Proclaimer. Jesus does not select a person guaranteed to be “holy” enough to receive his wisdom. He selects a person with a record of sketchy choices. And he says the water of life will become a spring gushing up in her – even in HER! – to eternal life. No one is left high and dry. Everyone – EVERYONE! – can worship in spirit & in truth.
And that Water does spring up in her, a torrent impelling her back down into town, leaving Jesus and her water jar beached behind her, to spread the word, suddenly finding she has voice and influence to draw others up to the well in their thirst.
Having already done the “more” and “MORE!” of the bishop walkabouts, I find now that the invitation of Lent in me is that LESS is “more!” Less certainty about where I’m headed. Less time that is “my own.” Less self-will and more of God’s will because my self-will so clearly will not bridge the baptismal river but will only drop me off in deep and turbulent waters. More letting go in silence and “letting God” be in charge. I’m with poet Mary Oliver for this second half of Lent, through the bishop election and on into Holy Week. She says,
Lord, I will learn to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.
[Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems]
And finally in the words of Scottish pastor
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one.
Stoop down, and drink and live.
I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched. My soul revived.
And now I live in him.
[words: Horatius Bonar; tune: Thomas Tallis, 1561]
Do you KNOW that your roots are already down into the Living Water that springs eternally? What’s blocking your access?
Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s People!