Last year I attended a lecture by Lisa Genova, the author of ‘Still Alice’. It’s a novel about a college professor who develops an early and aggressive form of dementia. The book was made into a movie of the same name.
Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist and her lecture was about the science behind diseases such as Alzheimer’s. One of her illustrations was what happens when we see or even think about someone drinking water – a nice cold drink of water. Many of us will suddenly become thirsty when we think about or see someone else drinking; our mouths and throats feel dry. Soft drink commercials exploit this effect all the time. It turns out that the parts of our brain associated with thirst respond and become activated when we see someone else drinking. You can see the changes in the brain in imaging studies.
I thought about this phenomenon when I was sitting with this week’s readings; specifically our second reading from the Book of the Revelation. Listen again to what the Spirit and the bride offer:
Let the one who thirsts come forward,
and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.
As does a glass of cold water on a hot day, the gift of life giving water from the hand of the Spirit refreshes, strengthens, and delights. We cannot live long without earthly water, neither can we live without refreshing our soul with the Spirit’s gift of life-giving water. It is that for which your body yearns, and your soul thirsts.
When we encounter someone who we can see is drinking deeply of the life giving water of the Spirit, does our soul thirst, as our bodies may when we observe someone drinking something cool and refreshing? I think so. I have had that experience in my life, of being thirsty for God because I see the thirst satisfied in someone else. I am sure that if I had been more aware of the Spirit, I would have experienced this sensation more frequently, to my spiritual benefit.
A way to open ourselves to thirst of the soul is to surround ourselves with people who we sense are drinking deeply of the Spirit. You may see these people in your life if you are open to seeing it. Another way – read the saints, and the lives of saints. After all, the saints are those women and men who drank so deeply of the Spirit that it shone through them, empowering them to live such beautiful lives that we love and honor them still. Whether they founded a religious order that has lasted 1,000 years or worked a simple menial job these ordinary people lived extraordinary lives by the grace of drinking deeply of the life giving Spirit. Avail yourselves of their example; permit their drinking in of the Spirit to awaken your own spiritual thirst.
The saints we honor today lived in many different eras and many different societies, some long ago and some close within our lifetimes, such as St. John Paul the Great or St. Oscar Romeo. They have in common their humanity and the Spirit, the same Spirit that fills and inspires us today, the same humanity we struggle with today. Their thirst is also our thirst; for life, love, truth, beauty, and home. We are one with them as imbibers of the one Spirit and we are one with them in our humanity.
It’s a pattern of thirst that repeats itself around the world and throughout time as the Spirit moves among us: a grateful receiver of the gift of the life giving water inspires a thirst and a yearning in others in turn. In the saints we celebrate that grace, remembering God’s work among God’s people and embracing the identity that is ours in Baptism: one Body of Christ, called to Christ’s ministry.
My friends, our thirst also makes us one with Jesus, who shares with us our humanity, and who shares with us his Spirit. In the Gospel of John we heard Jesus pray to the Father “that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one”. It is not a prayer that we be changed or molded into one people. Jesus prays that we embrace the identity that is already ours in Baptism: one Body of Christ, called to Christ’s ministry.
And Jesus also thirsts. His cry from the cross was “I thirst”. St. Mother Teresa taught us that Jesus thirsts for you – just you, as you are. He thirsts for you to be one in him as he is one in the Father.
Brothers and sisters, as we complete our Easter season, the great cycle of seven weeks of seven days, make it a point to be one who thirsts. Come forward and receive the gift of life giving water. If you do not feel the thirst right away, don’t give up. Your thirst may be veiled amongst the distractions of the world and the many, many ways we try to substitute for the life giving water of the Spirit. Spend some time in the presence of those who have come forward already – good and holy people in your life, good and holy people amongst the saints. Let their example awaken and activate thirst in your soul. Ponder and embrace our common humanity and our common thirst for the Spirit. Consider he who superabundantly supplies the gift of life giving water.
The Lord is risen! Alleluia!