Saturday, May 8, 2010

Water, Sun, and Soil (Dying and Dining with Christ)

"O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Ps. 62(or 63):1)

"I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land" (Ps. 142 (or 143):6)

"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)

Whenever I think of water now--this is horrible--I think of the mermaid (or merman) scene in Zoolander. "Water is the essence of moisture, and moisture is the essence of life." "Merman, Pop. (cough cough) Merman."

Now that I've ruined what was going to be a deep, introspective look at water, thirst and the need to quench that thirst, I will begin.

Water really is the essence of moisture, and moisture really is the essence of life. This is why Christ describes what He gives as water. He gave Himself up for the life of the world, as it says in the Gospels. When He was speared on the cross, blood and water flowed out of him. It was in water that he was baptized and commanded his disciples and apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The reading from the Gospel last week was from John, about the Samaritan woman at the well. This reading takes the image of water, so prevalent in the Old Testament (The Spirit of YHWH hovering over the waters, the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan, Moses disobediently striking the stone instead of speaking to it and water gushing out, etc.) and revitalizes it with Christ himself as the source of that water, and eternal life.

I'm realizing through prayer, attempted fasting, and going to Church to receive the body and blood of Christ, that my desire as an Orthodox Christian is, much like that of all Christians, to make Christ the source of my life.

The way we are encouraged to do this, however, is different and leads us into a personal (in the deepest sense of the word) relationship with Christ. We believe that He is the "illumination of our souls and bodies", as a prayer from St. John Chrysostom says, and that He is "the light that enlightens and sanctifies every man that comes into the world", as St. John the Theologian says in his Gospel. But I wasn't talking about light, was I? I was talking about water.

Aren't these the two things needed to sustain all organic (or carbon-based) life? All we're missing is soil. It is from the soil that God made man. There you go. These three things are essential for life to exist on the earth, and their use in the Scriptures guides us to a deeper understanding of our own lives. We are made from dust, but we are not just dust. In our souls and bodies there is something eternal, something that can and will never die because Christ has conquered death and brought the whole created world up into eternity with Him. "For God so loved the kosmos that He gave his only begotten Son. . ." (John 3:16)

I was comforted to know, as we've been on this journey, that Orthodox Christians don't believe in a distant God who created the world and left it to fend for itself. We believe that God is "everywhere present and fills all things" as a daily prayer of invocation of the Holy Spirit testifies. We are panentheists not pantheists. This nearness, though, raises all kinds of problems when we see so many things that are out of joint: natural disasters (or Acts of God!) diseases, murder, child abuse, miscarriage, just to name a few.

How can God be so close to touching every living thing and yet let or cause so much death and destruction take place? I hadn't set out to address that question when I started this blog. It seems like too much for right now. Just briefly, though, I believe that God weeps with all those who weep, bleeds with those who bleed, and yet is completely unharmed, untouched, and unchanged by doing that. To paraphrase what Bishop Kallistos Ware writes in his book The Orthodox Way, there was a cross in God's heart before there was ever a cross on Calvary. We believe in a God who is nearer to us than sunlight and rain, who is personal, who is able to empathize with our humanity, who cares about the death even of the smallest insect or plant, yet who is so perfect, holy and wholly other than us that His nearness could be the death of us.

And so we strive daily to die with Him, so that we may dine with Him. Dying and dining with (and on) Christ week in and week out, trying to cram our whole messy, un-tucked, scabbed-over, exhausted, prideful existence into the life of the Holy Trinity. Here we go again. Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.


  1. very insightful. you ask about how God can let or cause destruction, but by asking that you have an answer. if we are to truely love The Father, He mustn't show us an easy way. would we love Him and strive to be like Christ if we didn't have tribulation in our lives? remember, God gave us up, or set us free. our sins are our punishment to ourselves. and how much more joyous is our faith when we encounter disasters? how much stronger does our faith become. if, to be like Christ, all we had to do was live life and strive for earthly passions, well, then, what kind of god would He be?

  2. You are right on, Jared. The thing is, with all that struggling and striving (and suffering), not to give in and "curse God and die" as Job's wife adjured him to do. Our own sins are part of the cause of all the evil in the world. The problem is when we start trying to figure out whose "fault" it all is. Obviously, the root of it all is Satan himself. But why does Satan exist? Even now I'm trying to sort it all out. That's why I'm finding that the best thing I can do is to "judge myself rightly so that I will not be condemned along with the world" as St. Paul wrote. Self-examination, not condemnation, leads us to what God wills for everyone "repentance and knowledge of the truth" (as St. Paul wrote in another place. Damn, that guy's good!). And, as my uncle told me, one day we will all feel the pain of our sins, not condemnation, and it is then that Christ will offer us His healing. It is my prayer to become more aware of this pain, so that I may be healed.