Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Soul's Thirst

Psalm 42:1 – 4 (NIV)

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

Where I now live in Northwest Arkansas, deer are everywhere, frequently roadside both day and night, and often visiting near our house. The locals say they are always moving between bodies of water, finding the fresh water in streams and creeks, as well as traversing familiar trails between the two lakes that are about a mile apart, one east and one west of our home. The deer are never far from that which is most needful for their existence.

This, says the prayer, is what the human soul is like. No matter what happens in life on the exterior level, no matter what arises, the tragedies, the confusions, life's setbacks, the dreams that will never come true . . through it all, there is a part of every human person that is thirsty only for the Source of life. Our soul's thirst for God is the inner fuel that keeps you and me moving and seeking, the interior spark that will not settle, will not stop yearning, even when that yearning leads us to explore that which will not satisfy. Most of life, including the desire for more, the yearning for affirmation, the striving for success, and any addictive behavior (we're ALL addicted to something, and most of us, to many things!!) . . . all of it is a result of this soul's unquenchability, the soul's restlessness that only finds its rest in God.

So the various shapes life takes, even those grossly misdirected steps, are merely expressions of a soul-thirst that is looking to be quenched. You and I and all humans were created, not only with this soul-longing for God, but for union with God which is part of our created DNA. We yearn for oneness, for wholeness, and this yearning drives us. Life's journey is mostly about our search, our relentless seeking -- even when we don't realize we are seeking this wholeness -- for this union.

An ancient teaching parable paints a helpful image for our frequently misguided seeking. The story is about a teacher who had lost his keys and was in the grass on his hands and knees looking for them. As his students passed by one at a time, each would ask him, "What are you doing?" His reply was always the same: "I've lost my keys and I'm trying to find them." So one at a time, the passers-by joined him on hands and knees, combing through the grass looking for the lost keys.

Finally in frustration, one of the students gathered the courage to ask the teacher, "Are you sure you lost your keys here in the grass?"

The teacher replied, "Oh no. I lost my keys in the house."

"Then why are we looking for the keys in the grass?"

"Because," replied the teacher, "there is no light in the house, so I thought it best to look here where there is light."

Fr Thomas Keating, when he tells the story, reminds us that this is the human condition: We have lost the keys to happiness and fulfillment, and we spend a lifetime trying to find them in the wrong places.

After a reading from Psalm 42, one of my Benedictine prayer books offers a prayer that God would "inspire us to yearn for you always, like the deer for running streams." And I have a minor objection: deer don't need to be "inspired" to find fresh sources of water. It's native to them, and essential for their survival.

You and I, too, don't have to be prompted nor be inspired to yearn for God. We were created with that yearning in our souls, knit thoroughly within our spiritual DNA. Longing for God and for wholeness fuels our daily seeking, even when we don't know we are seeking. We are merely asked, 1.) to become more aware of our seeking, and 2.) to grow up in our recognition of that which does not quench the soul's thirst.

Tomorrow I'll post my own prayer based on these 4 verses of Psalm 42.

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