Jesus teaching at the lake Tissot
Reflection Prompts by Suzanne Guthrie
In the coming weeks, the lectionary focuses upon Eucharistic themes (feeding the 5,000, 'I am the bread of life', the living bread, bread from heaven). We see the ravening crowds in this Sunday’s text through the lens of the miracle and teachings to come. The people follow Jesus relentlessly, even anticipating his crossing the lake by running ahead of the boat along the shore. Jesus observes them with a welling up and outpouring of compassion. The crowd thirsts for this compassion. As do we.
The meditation prompts this week play on themes of the soul’s thirst. One's inner thirst meets the thirst of the divine from which it originates (Meditation One). This thirst draws us toward a vision of the beauty of holiness (Meditation Two). While death may quench this thirst, perhaps there is also reason to linger, as the poet’s exquisite prayer suggests (Meditation Three).
- Suzanne Guthrie
Meditation One (Introit)
Thirst for the Fountain of Life
But when the Seed of the new birth, called the inward man, has faith awakened in it, its faith is not a notion but a real, strong, essential hunger, an attracting, or magnetic desire of Christ, which, as it proceeds from a seed of the divine nature in us, so it attracts and unites with its like, it lays hold on Christ, puts on the divine nature, and in a living and real manner grows powerful over all sins and effectually works out our salvation.
And therefore it is justly called a divine faith, not only because of its divine effects, but chiefly because it arises from that which is divine within us, and by its attracting hunger and thirst after that Fountain of Life from whence it came, becomes essentially united with it, breathes by that Spirit, and lives by that Word, which eternally proceeds out of the mouth of God. Of this faith alone it is that our Lord speaks, when He says, “Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal Life.”
-William Law 1686-1761
Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration, from Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law, p.154
Simone Weil, "Necessity"
The Cycle of days in the deserted sky turning
In silence watched by mortal eyes
Gaping mouth here below, where each hour is burning
So many cruel and beseeching cries;
All the stars slow in the steps of their dance,
The only fixed dance, mute brilliance on high,
In spite of us formless, nameless without cadence.
Too perfect, no fault to belie;
Toward them, suspended, our anger is vain.
Quench our thirst, if you must break our hearts.
Clamoring and desiring, their circle draws us in their train;
Our brilliant masters were forever victors.
Tear flesh apart, chains of pure clarity.
Nailed without a cry to the fixed point of the North,
Naked soul exposed to all injury,
May we obey you unto death.
Notebooks (OC 6:2:147-148)
Poetry and Poetics, Simone Weil : Thinking Poetically. Joan
Dargan, State University of New York Press. 1999.
Meditation Two (Insight)
The Irresistible Thirst Which God Inspires in the Soul
It is natural to look for beauty and to love it, even though the idea of what is beautiful varies between one person and another.
Now, what is more marvellous than the divine beauty? What can you think of that is more likely to give pleasure than the magnificence of God? What desire could be more ardent, more irresistible than the thirst which God inspires in the soul when once it has been purified of every vice and cries out: I am sick with love. (Song of Songs 2:5)
The divine beauty is beyond description in words. We could compare its brilliance to the light of the morning star or the moon or the sun. But we should be as far from a true description as midday is from the dead of night.
This beauty is invisible to the eyes of the body; only the soul and the mind can perceive it. Every time it illumines the saints, it leaves in them a sting, a nostalgia so strong as to wring from them the cry: Woe is me, that I am in exile still. (Psalm 120:5)
By our nature we human beings aspire to what is beautiful and love it. But what is beautiful is also good. God is good. Everyone looks for the good, therefore everyone looks for God.
- Basil the Great 330-379
The Greater Rules, 2 (from Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, Thomas Spidlik)
Meditation Three (Integration)
Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh 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, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.
The Last Word
If in thirst you drink water from a cup, you see God in it. Those who are not in love with God will see only their own faces in it.
Essential Sufism, James Fadiman and Robert Frager 1997
Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring.
The Essential Rumi, Colman Barks
Thirst For Love
When my children are suffering I get a stabbing pain deep within the core muscles of my lower torso. Why not? Protection of the young links irrevocably to the womb.
The Hebrew word for compassion, racham, derives from the word for “womb.” According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance other words associated with racham are: tender love, great, tender mercy, pity, womb, bowels.
Here is Jesus, hounded by the thirsty crowds. He looks upon them as sheep without a shepherd, sheep with no tending to them, no sense of orientation or protection. Had he ever felt like a sheep without a shepherd? Probably. So he had compassion on them. He understood them. He felt pity, empathy, and love for them at the core, the heart, the womb of his being.
Jesus. The whole point of his life and brutal death, is to bring each of us to compassion. Not just for our children. Not just for our families. Not just for our friends. Not just for our neighbors. That's all just practice.
Jesus called us specifically to love our enemies. And, to love the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the disabled and injured and sick, the ana'whim, the little ones. Loving enemies as well as vulnerable people call us to love those unlike us of whom we are afraid, and those who mirror our own shadow vulnerabilities. Even in his struggling tortured last breaths he asks God to forgive his torturers. “They know not what they do.”
He said this aloud not for his own sake. For ours.
Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And, he adds, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Love to the ends of earth. Love universally. Love from your womb to the world.
Is there an evolutionary transition embedded in Jesus' message, do you suppose? What good is it to extend our love beyond our family and tribe? The answer is obvious these days. The survival of the planet depends upon it. (If it's not too late.) "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools," said Martin Luther King Jr.
The human person is created for love – from the very womb. Fulfillment comes in loving.
Human beings thirst for love. We thirst for compassion. We thirst to be known. We thirst for healing. For kindness. For meaning.
We thirst for the One who made us, the One who loves us, from whose originating Womb we come forth awakening us to Love-consciousness. Let it be that we might mature into the Love from which we are made. Let it be that we grow into that Love for which we are made.