Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We are well into Lent now, and have just past the milestone of Mothering Sunday. Lent begins in the dark time of the year, the close of winter when we are all fed up with the cold and the long nights. As the weeks of Lent pass we truly do travel into the light, and this weekend with the beginning of British Summertime and the glorious weather it really does feel that we have emerged from the long darkness that is a British winter.
I’ve never gotten completely used to those very short days, and long nights. Even though I grew up in the Pacific Northwest at the northern most part of America, the longest winter days there were still a good hour shorter than here – and that hour makes a lot of difference. Lent then is, in very real ways, travelling towards the light of Easter morning both practically and spiritually.
I’ve been reading the Gospel of John as part of my Lent reflection. It’s a Gospel that I find deeply moving, but also at times challenging. And I love it for both those reasons. I have read it many times, and as always every time I read it something new, something that escaped my attention, something that I just took for granted before, jumps out at me, and seems to say to me ‘have a closer look, this is important’.
This time the phrase that has really called out to me is ‘living water’. Of course this phrase features largely in one of my favorite parts of the Gospel, in chapter four, when Jesus meets the woman at the well. Sometimes reading these stories of Jesus’s encounter with people is like watching a movie for a second or third time, we know what is going to happen and we want to shout out at the characters when they seem particularly clueless.
When Jesus tells her that he will give her living water, she confuses this metaphor with actual water, and thinks he’s offering to lessen the burden of the daily task of getting water. He soon makes clear that is not the point, that what he is promising is a endless supply of spiritual indwelling, a source of spiritual health and joy that cannot be depleted. And she does finally figure this out and embraces it, and proclaims it to others.
I like this image of the way God’s Spirit nourishes us and cleanses our minds and hearts like fresh, sweet spring water. I’ve never thought much more about this image of 'living water'. But just the other day the phrase jumped out at me in a different place in the Gospel of John, much later, in chapter seven when Jesus says that “out of the believer’s heart shall flow living waters.”
Again here he is speaking of the Holy Spirit, but this time he’s not talking about this living water as only indwelling in us. Here he speaks of something even more fantastic. This living water that sustains us, also flows through us and sustains others. I have to say I felt a little like the woman at the well for a moment when I read this verse. I realized that I had only gotten what Jesus tries to teach us in this gospel half right for so long.
It's not just that we are sustained – it's not just about me and my spiritual health, it's about us. It's always about us, about all God’s creatures living in harmony, sustaining each other. When we drink that living water, when we live more fully that life of the Spirit that Jesus so abundantly brings to us, we also become literal conduits for the Holy Spirit to flow into our world.
Our love for others, our work for other’s goods, our self-giving is all part of one amazing well-spring of Living Water. Jesus doesn’t just fill us with living water, Jesus makes us part of that outflowing of living water to others. I find that amazing, and I will be thinking more about what this really means—because it is pretty profound.
The gifts of that amazing Trinity of communion and community, Father Son and Holy Spirit, embraces us all within unfathomable love, and gives us living water to refresh us, and that enables us to be part of the refreshing of others. That is truly an Easter gift.
I’ll end with a prayer based on one I found in Evelyn Underhill’s little book of prayers*:
O Lord Jesus! So dwell within us that we may go forth with the light of hope in our eyes, the fire of inspiration on our lips, your word on our tongues, your love in our hearts. Give us, O Lord, such wisdom, sympathy and self-denial, and joy, that we may draw others to your, and hereafter be partakers of your living water who with our Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, world without end, Amen.
Looking forward with you in hope towards Easter,
Daffodils by the Stream by Becky Noble
*Evelyn Underhill’s Prayerbook, ed. Robyn Wrigley-Carr (2018)