I’ve learned other things during this diet, too. I’ve learned more about hunger and thirst – something a lot of us in the church don’t have to struggle with – unless we choose it for ourselves. Think about it: if you’ve ever tried a new diet, or ever began a new exercise routine. Your body goes through a purge in order to find its new normal. It adjusts to new foods, less foods, better foods. It adjusts to new movements, new stresses, new activities. As your body becomes more physically active it also grows more and more hungry, more and more thirsty – as it tries to rebuild itself into a healthier and more effective system. It all takes time, disciple, and patience because while you battle to make it not just a diet but a lifestyle, your body is constantly reminding you of its old self by hunger and thirst. I’m not a doctor, a dietician, or a nutritionist, but I did read WedMD so I’m basically qualified to say all of this. This whole transformation is hard. It cannot be done magically. Hunger and thirst are powerful motivators and change is always difficult; both physical and spiritual.
But Lent is a season of change. Lent, in some ways, is the Christian diet. Pope Francis said that Lent is a time to awaken from lethargy, from laziness in the spiritual life. It’s a season where the Church asks us to look at our faith lives and decide what spiritual foods need to change, what old habits need to go, what sorts of activities (spiritual exercises) should I try in order to become a new creation come Easter? Both Fr. Mike and Deacon Mark have posed the question in their homilies: what will be different about us come April 16th? What will be different about us spiritually when we celebrate the most important day in the Church’s calendar; the Solemn Feast of Our Lord’s Resurrection?
This weekend we read the familiar story from the Gospel of John about the Samaritan woman at the well. Theologians have written entire books and commentaries about these 30 verses, and certainly they are worth our attention. But there is something quite striking in the simplicity of Our Lord’s words that could really help us during this Season of Lent in particular. Jesus had been on a journey for quite some time and finally comes to this place of rest and he says: “Give me a drink.” Jesus was thirsty. Thirst is something we can all relate to because it’s something we experience each day in some form or another.
Have you ever participated in an organized run? Like a 5k or 10k or for all you crazy people a half or full marathon (running for running’s sake/running away or towards something). When I lived in Spokane my dad loved to do this fun-run called Bloomsday. It is a huge event that takes place every May in Spokane. And one year he wanted me to do it with him - so for some reason I said “yes.” Now, there is a big difference between me and my dad, which put simply, is that he is a runner and I am not. So at one point early in the race my dad was jogging by me, he looked over and said, “ok, son, I’m going to start running now.” So he blew past me and finished way ahead of me. But along the way, during this run, and probably in every organized race, they have these refueling stops. All these volunteers filling up cups of water and handing them to racers. And if you’re an out-of-shape non-runner, these stops are like little glimpses of the heaven. Tables full of cool and hydrating cups of water. And you desperately grab that water, and you drink. Immediately your mind and body feel momentarily relieved.
Hunger and thirst are the most basic of human desires, and like Jesus, we have them. We all have basic desires. When we have hunger we eat. When we have thirst we drink. Basic desires can be other things, too. When we are cold we put on a jacket. When we have muscle pain we take an Advil. When we want something we order it on Amazon. The basic desires in our lives are needs which can be fulfilled by ourselves. But the story of the woman at the well – the story of Jesus’ own thirst and his interaction with this Samaritan woman – helps us discover that thirst, that desire, actually comes in two flavors.
Think about the Crucifix for a moment. The Crucifix is a great symbol for Lent. If you look at the cross there are two directions; horizontal and vertical. Just as our Lord was God and man, so we too have finite and infinite qualities. We each have horizontal and vertical thirsts. Horizontal thirsts are those desires we can quench by ourselves. When I’m hungry, it’s me who gets food and eats. When I want to be sociable, it’s me who texts my friends and says “hey let’s hang out”. But vertical thirst, what I suggest we call Divine Thirst, cannot be quenched by ourselves alone. Vertical thirst, an essential part of who we are as Christians, can only be quenched by God. Only when we enter into a friendship with the living and true God, will that Divine Thirst be satisfied. “Whoever drinks the water I shall give,” Jesus says, “will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This reality, this desire for something beyond ourselves, is best seen in the human ability to love. Love is the greatest vertical desire. Think about the relationships of love you have in your life: your marriage, your significant other, your kids, your family, your best friends. When that relationship is in a good place, when two people love each other, understand each other, sacrifice for each other – you feel quenched in a way that is impossible to feel all by yourself. The same is true with God. God made us for him. And there is a Divine Thirst in each of us to discover Him.
But my friends, there is the challenge. There is the challenge of this Lenten diet. Because we are so good at taking care of horizontal thirst. We are experts at basic thirst. But sometimes we can forget about the more important of the thirsts, the one that affects every fiber of our being, body and soul, that thirst for God and God alone. “Only in God is my soul at rest, in him comes my salvation,” that beautifully verse from Psalm 62. And sometimes, too, we make the big mistake of trying to quench that Divine Thirst by ourselves. We try to fill our desire for the infinite with finite things. We look to fill it with money, with power, with lust. We look to fill it with a false sense of love, a false sense of security, with a false sense of faith. We look to hide that desire behind addiction or unhealthy attachments to things of the world. Those are fad diets. They will not last, they will not bring results. In the end only the living and true God can give us that Divine Water. Only through His grace, the grace we receive through prayer, through the Sacraments, through a life humbled and contrite, through service to our neighbor, through sacrificial love of our family and friends, can we be satisfied to the core. It’s the paradox of the Christian life: “He must increase, I must decrease”.
As a said in the beginning, Lent is a season of change and change is difficult. It’s a time when we can reevaluate and purify the ways in which we fill our horizontal desires and get more in touch with our vertical desire — the Divine Thirst for God. Eventually we will come to realize that God alone has the power to quench every desire we’ve ever had in our entire lives. That’s when the Christian diet becomes a lifestyle