The marvellous Celtic poet and mystic John O'Donohue described faith as 'the absolutely irresistible longing for God'. This is why Jesus in today's gospel describes himself as 'living water'. For every human being on this watery blue planet of ours has an irresistible longing for water. We literally cannot live without it. Indeed almost all of our bodies is made up of water. The longing and thirst for water is more desperate than the longing for food, or sex or companionship or home. Thirst is an elemental, irresistible longing. We need water. And not just physical water.
Moses led the people out into the wilderness and they became thirsty. There was no water for them to drink. So of course they complained. In that barren place they experienced their need, their dependence on God. And through Moses, God satisﬁed their physical need, striking water from the rock so that they could drink.
The experience of wilderness, of longing and thirst is essential to our mature spiritual growth...
This I believe is why Jesus, when he was dying on the cross, cried out 'I thirst!'. It was not so much the physical thirst or the pain, or he would have taken the vinegar and myrrh they offered. It was the inner longing for God, at a moment where he felt utterly abandoned and forsaken, just as we sometimes feel, for He experienced the depth of every human despair. He, the embodiment of living water, longed at that moment for that very water.
So what does that water give us? Why do we take it as our symbol for baptism, for the very ﬁrst steps that are taken on the path of faith?
Firstly this living water gives life. Just as physical water gives life to our physical bodies and cannot be done without, so at the spiritual level this spiritual water gives eternal life, life that is set free from pain and sorrow and testing. It is given to us in baptism, but we need to continue to drink of it inwardly our whole life long. It is as we drink of this living water in prayer, in receiving the sacraments that our faith is sustained and without it our spiritual selves wither.
Secondly this water makes us whole, brings us healing from the wounds that life inﬂicts. The woman of Samaria that Jesus encounters at the well drinks of that living water, and is never the same again. Her self worth is restored. She sees herself in an entirely new way, and is empowered to go and share her faith and her experience of God with others. In drinking of this living water, by her conversation with Jesus, she comes to understand that God knows her, and loves her and longs for her, and that knowledge enables a life long transformation within her.
Finally this living water is about abundance. When Moses strikes the rock at Meribah, the place of bitterness and hard testing, water ﬂows out in wild and generous abundance. God does respond to our longing with a miserable trickle! God is never miserly. As Jesus said in another place, he came that we might 'have life and have it to the full'. So the living water always comes and ﬁlls the cup of our longing to full and overﬂowing.
So may we be ready to respond to God's longing within us. May we open ourselves today and every day to the living water of God's grace. And may we come to that place of life and wholeness and abundance which is God's longing for us. And I'd like to end with a blessing from John O'Donohue that speaks of these things.
'Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.'
(From For Longing' by John O'Donohue, from Benedictus)