When I was in school I was at best indifferent to science, especially chemistry. I learned what was necessary to navigate the tests, but I didn’t really "get it", especially the language of letters and numbers. Only the lab experiments made any sense to me - I could see how the elements acted and reacted. I needed to touch and feel and smell and experience what the symbols really represented before I could grasp abstract concepts.
Perhaps the most universally understood chemical expression is H2O, the one for water. Water - we know its gifts, its talents, its uses, its perils. It’s easy to take for granted the pleasure of a hot shower, the simple delight of a cold drink of water, or the enjoyment of riding down a tranquil river on a hot summer’s day. Yet we’re suddenly filled with awe and respect for the power of water when entire communities are flooded and destroyed, often with catastrophic loss of life. Katrina. Sandy. In sharp contrast, it’s one of the ironies of nature that even though water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface, there are still places that suffer the continuous crisis of drought. There’s never enough water – to drink, bathe, and wash, for livestock, factories, and energy.
When we grieve we’re chronically thirsty for the living, loving presence of the one now lost to us in death, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:6 NRSV). We drink in the comfort offered by others, yet our thirst is not satisfied. Grief is salty, it makes us thirsty. We long to be filled by living water, the pure, crystal water of God’s love that soothes our spirit and nourishes our soul, “where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 RSV).
Many of the physical symptoms of dehydration are like our experience of grief – we’re lightheaded, we’re tired, we’re weak, we’re thirsty. Part of the work of grief is re-hydrating our grief-parched heart. Just as we add water to make a meal of something that’s been dehydrated, we need living water to revive us, to renew our life and spirit, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6 NRSV).
As we grieve, we’re assured that God guides us faithfully toward the source of living water so that we may be restored, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17 RSV).
How do we get living water? We pray, we stretch, we grow, we seek the source. Living water comes from an infinite reservoir that never runs dry, the divine spring of God's comfort, peace, love, and hope that bubbles up through the sparkling goodness of the Holy Spirit to fill us and satisfy the deep thirst of our grief.
As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
John 7:38 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the refreshment of your living water. Amen.