Living Water

Living Water
John 4:5-42

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.”

When I look back on some of the paintings that I have done, I realize how many of them include water in various settings.  I have captured huge waves breaking upon the shore, children playing on the beach, people in awe of the sea.  I have painted a river flowing around rocks and through a forest of million fall colors. I have tried to express a mood of serenity by painting a deer drinking from a lake.  I have painted fishing boats upon the sea and an old row boat or canoe pulled up on the shore. In one painting I have shown a person sitting on a rock quietly meditating by the ocean.  Many of my paintings portray water as life giving and essential to our well-being as human beings and portray the need to be aware of the dangers connected with water.  I have tried to capture that feeling in a poem that I wrote while on one of the beaches on the West Coast of Vancouver Island:

The wild waves are breaking on the shore
as if escaping from some far off land
refusing to be harnessed
but taming all that lies within their path
and bringing refreshment to our tired souls
Along the shoreline are the riptide warnings
and gulls are seen near waters edge
like small communities
gathered near the source of life

One has to marvel at the dangers of the sea
yet all it nurtures in it’s way
But the same such power
often lies within our grasp 

(Wild Waves by Alex Thomas written at Tofino BC October 7, 2002)

*

Our lives are so dependent on water.  We don’t realize the extent that we rely on water until something happens to our water supply. Such was the case last fall in the area where I live on Vancouver Island.  We had so much rain in one year that the run off threatened our water supply with undue amount of sentiment.  We were issued an advisory not to drink tap water without boiling it for seven minutes.  All of a sudden became aware of how much water was a part of our lives and how precious it was.   We drink quite a bit of water in a day.  We use it in our coffee, tea and other beverages. It was almost a major catastrophe when some coffee shops had to close down for awhile until they could assure there customers that their coffee was safe to drink.  We brush our teeth with water. We wash and cook our vegetables in it. We mix it in various foods.  We bath in it. The hydration of our skin is dependent on it. In today’s Globe and Mail newspaper there was a little note in the Social Studies section:

Feeling beat? “Prevent heat exhaustion with Pampers. If you can’t re-hydrate your skin by taking a shower or jumping into a swimming pool, saturate a Pampers disposable diaper with water (you’ll be amazed at how much liquid it holds), wipe down your body, and then wear it on your head to replenish your skin with moisture.”
(advice from the 2007 Canadian Farmers’ Almanac)

Water means life.  According to one theory, evolution of life began from the sea. Be that as it may, we know that we were all literally born of water.  For nine prenatal months we existed in water and life from then until we die is sustained by water.

*

It is little wonder that water is used as a symbol of new life in the spiritual sense. When you hear the conversation about water and living water that Jesus has with the woman by the well of Samaria in the readings today we capture the sense that Jesus is at the centre of new life. He says to the woman

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10). 

To have living water is to have new life. Jesus goes on to say, 

“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.”

When I think of water gushing up like a ever flowing spring, I am ever inspired by the hope and faith that new life is always possible.  In my life I have never found it to be a once-and-for-all event but a continuous experience throughout our lives and hopefully beyond this present life. I try to live by the belief in resurrection at every stage of life including death.  Just as in our daily life we are continually sustained and renewed by water, so by the Spirit we are continually given a new life and each day the opportunity to begin again.

I remember when I had first retired from an active parish ministry, I happened to get into a conversation with Archbishop Douglas Hambidge, a former bishop of mine who had retired some years earlier.  He gave this advice to me. “Don’t look at your retirement as an end but as a beginning.”  I have tried to remember that and I have certainly found in retirement many more opportunities open to me.  I have entered through doors that I would never have thought to enter in the past. It was beginning.  It was like passing through the waters of baptism into a new life.  My painting was one of the doors. The development of my web site The Patio was another.  There are many other things that I could mention that has brought a great deal of fulfillment and enjoyment to me in this part of my life. 

I believe that when we truly grasp the significance of the stories in scripture that tell of water and the Spirit, we are continually on the alert for that new life which is ready to break in at any time. To begin again means that we have to leave the past but we do not completely forget the past. In fact those memories of the past can bring strength and understanding to our present experience. Past mistakes can also be signs to warn us what to avoid in the here and now if we are not to fall into the same traps that held us captive in the past.

*

I did a painting just before Christmas.  It was a lighthouse standing straight and secure even as stormy sea rages all around it. After I finished it, I wasn’t satisfied with it.  It didn’t convey what I wanted it to convey. There was something missing, something not quite right.  I was really unable to change it or redeem it.  I had to put it away and leave it behind. What I had to do is start a new painting.  The paper now sits fastened to my drawing board completely blank staring at me and inviting me to begin again. I will begin again and bring the skills and mistakes of the past to bear on the present, informing me and enriching me as I begin the new task.

There are so many open doors to walk through. They are right in front of us if we have the eyes to see them. All we have to do is have the courage to walk through them, leaving the past behind but drawing upon our experience of the past in facing what lies ahead.  There is always a new beginning that awaits us.  When we choose to begin again, it is like being carried through a new birth canal by the flow of water and the Spirit. We will know it as living water.

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