The first book I ever had published was Voices: Messages in Gospel Symbols. It contains reflections on objects in the Gospels. The following adapted chapter on water is just as relevant today.
At the well the Samaritan woman encounters someone who violates the cultural code on two counts. He, a man and a Jew, asks her, a woman and a Samaritan, for a drink. In those days men did not speak to women in public. Furthermore, the Jews and the Samaritans were enemies. Jesus offers the woman living water, water that springs up as a fountain for eternal life. After he reveals knowledge of her multiple marriages and current partner, she concludes that Jesus is the Messiah. She goes to tell her townspeople the good news and brings them to Jesus. Either in her haste or as an answer to Jesus’ original request, the woman leaves her water jar behind.
Water is not only central in the story of the woman at the well, but it is central to life in general and to Christian life in particular. Three-fourths of the world is covered by water, and plants and animals originated in the sea and evolved. We ourselves began life floating in water in our mother’s womb. What’s more, our bodies are about sixty-five percent water.
We greatly depend on water. This is demonstrated whenever thousands of people starve to death because of droughts. Water supplies energy to illumine, warm and cool our homes, and run our computers. We use it for travel and recreational activities from floating to boating. It is the basic component for cleaning our bodies and objects and the most common thirst quencher. With good reason St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Praised be my Lord for Sister Water, which is greatly helpful and precious and pure.”
Water, moreover, is a source of beauty in oceans and ponds, waterfalls and streams, gentle rains and downpours, snowflakes, waves, and rainbows. As rain and rivers, water carves canyons; as trickles and drops, it sculpts stalactites and stalagmites; and as frost, it designs lacy patterns on windowpanes. No wonder water is an eloquent symbol.
Water awakened Helen Keller to the real world. When she suddenly connected cold water from the pump with the word “water,” she was plunged into life. Similarly, water begins the Christian’s story. In baptism, water floods us with supernatural life. It cleanses, frees, and strengthens us. We are born from water to a new life as sons and daughters of God.
God the Life-Giver likes to play with water. The Spirit hovers over the water and creation comes into being. During Noah’s time, God uses a deluge to purify the world. In Exodus, God splits the Red Sea and conducts the chosen people through it to freedom. Later, God sustains them in the desert with water from a rock after Moses strikes it.
Jesus is baptized, coming forth from the River Jordan anointed for his ministry. Water plays a starring role in his miracles. Jesus turns water into wine, calms angry waves, walks on water, and makes the Sea of Galilee yield a miraculous catch of fish. We can believe him when he offers himself as a drink: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me; and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37–38). He promises “living water” flowing from the believer’s heart, by which he means the Holy Spirit.
American author Flannery O’Connor presents the water-life theme in her story “The River.” A boy is only in the way in the apartment where he lives. His parents are more concerned with drinking with friends than in feeding him. When a babysitter takes him to a meeting at the river, he is baptized. There he matters. He is not a problem, but a person. In the end he chooses the river over the apartment. We are all confronted with the same decision: Do we choose life? Jesus makes us important. He impels us to choose life, but he never compels us.
Holy water recalls our baptism. We bless ourselves with it in church. Sometimes Mass opens with a priest sprinkling us with water. Water is blessed as holy water during the Easter Vigil. This is because the water used in baptism derives its powers from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ever since the Paschal Mystery conquered sin, the waters of baptism, coupled with tears of repentance, extinguish the fires of hell for us.
Water is linked to divinity. Its transparency and power suggest the supernatural. Also, the awesome companions of rain, namely, thunder and lightning, draw one’s thoughts to God. Miraculous powers are attributed to water. For instance, the Ganges is sacred to the Hindus; the fountain of youth enticed Ponce de Leon to cross an ocean; and annually, thousands of pilgrims visit the healing waters of Lourdes. In addition, water exists as solid, liquid, and gas. For this reason, Christians regard water as a symbol of the Trinity.
Saints and spiritual writers have even likened Jesus to a large expanse of water. The analogy is easily drawn. Jesus is our life, the medium in which we thrive. Apart from him we die, like a fish out of water. He buoys us up more than we realize. Jesus is the all-encompassing sea of peace, an ocean of love. To drown in him is to live.
Water is ordinary and taken for granted. Restaurants serve it free of charge. It flows at the flick of a wrist from our faucets. Graces are just as available. Reviewing our graces (counting our blessings) at the close of each day makes us more attuned to God’s presence in our lives. Equally important is praying for particular graces for ourselves and others. This is like priming a pump. It starts the graces flowing into our lives.
Water is associated with daily chores like doing laundry, washing the car, sprinkling the lawn, and cooking. Much of our day is spent on seemingly inconsequential activities. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus showed us that sanctity is possible through the little things. When another Sister splashed her with water or rattled rosary beads, Thérèse responded with silent endurance. When she experienced a natural dislike for a grumpy Sister, Thérèse went out of her way to be nice to her. This “little way to heaven” that the saint promoted is reassuring.
Imagine how many trips to the well Mary made and how many meals Jesus prepared. When we carry out humdrum tasks well, especially when we do them for someone else, we are being saintly.
Water takes the shape of its container. To be life-giving to others, we have to fit ourselves to their needs. Like St. Paul, we are to strive to be all things to all people. To become the disciples Jesus calls us to be, we must adapt to the young and the old, conservative and liberal, the rich and the poor, the Jehovah’s Witness, the unchurched, and the next-door neighbor.
Water teaches us that in unity there is strength. Of itself a droplet can do little for good or for evil. But joined together in a waterfall, droplets can generate enough electricity to light a city. In an ocean, droplets can erode mountains. In a flood, they can destroy towns.
We come before the Creator as a people, gathering for Eucharist and for parish programs. Through service groups like those who deliver meals to families in need, parishes are recapturing the Church’s original spirit of unity.
Giving water to a thirsty person is not just an act of courtesy. Jesus says, “[W]hoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42).
We do our best to satisfy others’ thirsts though we may be imperfect like the water jar in this parable “The Cracked Pot”:
Every day a man carried a pole on his shoulders to bring home water from a stream. On one end hung a cracked pot, and on the other end was a flawless one. On the return trip, water always leaked out from the cracked pot. One day on reaching home, this pot spoke.
“Master, I’m so sorry I am not doing a good job. Every day I lose a lot of the water you want me to carry.”
“Dear pot,” replied the Master, “look behind us.”
There all along the side of the path where the cracked pot had leaked water, flowers bloomed.
Jesus himself sometimes needed a drink of water. Before he died, he said from the cross, “I thirst.” Implied is a request beyond the physical level. Who of us will quench the Master’s thirst?
Enjoy this video and relax a bit….