The water was warm as I dipped my hand into it, preparing to place it on the baby’s head and proclaim the good news that he was claimed by God. I placed my hand on top of the thin, fuzzy baby hair and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
As soon as I had finished, the baby reached up, grabbed my fingers and plunged them into his open mouth. He began to lick the warm drops of water off my fingertips. I laughed into my microphone, proclaiming that this was just fine and that the baby could have my fingers and the clear liquid on them too.
He was probably not truly thirsty, probably not parched from a day in the hot sun, probably not dehydrated from spiritual weariness, but there was something about that water that caused a tiny boy to want more than just drops on his head. As he licked and sucked and swallowed, it seemed that he wanted those drops to work their way into him, to enter his stomach and perhaps even his soul.
Water is necessary for life. It is part of the very beginning of life as we are nurtured in the waters of our mother’s wombs. It is part of the continuation of life as we need hydration to survive and to thrive. It is part of our Christian journey as the waters of baptism give us new birth and remind us continually of our covenant with God. Water is a life-giving, life-sustaining substance.
During Lent at Duke Divinity School, the altar, which normally reads “Alleluia,” is turned. The side that faces the congregation during Lent reads, “I Thirst.” Every day I would go into chapel and long for the fast to be over, so that I would no longer read those words of Christ from the cross. I wanted to return to the abundance of alleluias and move away from the feeling of dryness carved into the wood. The Lenten fast never sped up to relieve me of my thirst. The Lenten fast instead reminds me to long for God in the same way that I long for water, to thirst for living water, to look for eternal springs to quench my dryness.
The readings this week invite you to think about thirst, about longing and about living water.
Monday, February 29 – Exodus 17:1-7
Tuesday, March 1 – John 3:1-21
Wednesday, March 2 – Psalm 63
Thursday, March 3 – John 4:1-42
Friday, March 4 – Isaiah 44:1-8
Saturday, March 5 – John 8:1-11
Sunday, March 6 – Psalm 32
The image above is called The Public Fountain by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Notice the pouring fountain, the thirsty boy, and imagine how that water feels as touches his parched lips. In our longing for Jesus, in our need for living water, are we not like that little boy?