There is a true story of a man who wanders into the desert in Arizona and dies of thirst. When he is found he is still clutching an unopened gallon jug of water that he has been hoarding to drink at the right moment, but in his disorientation the right moment never comes.
Our society is in many ways a spiritual desert. Many people wander its trackless wastes only a short walk from well of the Water of Life. The poet T. S. Eliot said: “The desert is not remote in southern tropics, /The desert is not only around the corner, /The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you, /The desert is in the heart of your brother.”[i]
We were born wanderers. G. K. Chesterton says, “according to Christianity, we were indeed survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world”[ii] (Orthodoxy, Ch. 5). Like the Wanderer of old we roam the turbulent seas seeking a lost band of brothers, and a home to call our own. [iii] No place quite fits. I felt like a lost child of king that was somehow stranded in a peasant’s hovel amid the dank and gloaming hollows of druid wood. Again Chesterton says of this discovery, “I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in the spring” (Ibid).
To the wanderer in a spiritual desert a drink of cool clear water is a delight, and we are drawn by delight. That cool clear draft of water is promised by Jesus who says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”[iv]
“What does it mean, to be drawn by delight? ‘Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ . . . Show me a lover and he will understand what I am saying. Show me someone who wants something, someone hungry, someone wandering in this wilderness, thirsting and longing for the fountains of his eternal home, show me such a one and he will know what I mean. But if I am talking to someone without any feeling, he will not know what I am talking about.”[v]
In looking for those who are wandering, the Church seeks those that thirst, and offers them the living water of the Spirit of God. There is a deep well of clear cool water in the liturgy and life of the Church. There will come a time when, “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts?”[vi]
[i] T. S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock
[ii] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (London: Image Books, 1959), p. 80
[iii] Burton Raffel, “The Wanderer,” Poems and Prose from the Old English, (New Haven: Yale, 1998), p. 7-14
[iv] John 7:37-38 ESV
[v] St. Augustine, from A Homily on the Gospel of St. John, Tract. 26: CCL 36, p. 261-263
[vi] Zechariah 8:4-6 ESV