Quenching God’s Thirst

Quenching God’s Thirst

Homily for Epiphany V

February 6, 2022

Quenching God’s Thirst

Homily for Sunday, February 6, 2022

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
Luke 5:1–11


The homily this morning is about God’s desire. Not so much about God’s desire for us (though it includes that), but more about just God’s desire, which over the centuries different writers have described differently. I want to begin with Madonna and her 1994 R&B ballad, “Love Tried to Welcome Me.” Madonna sings,

Love tried to welcome me
But my soul drew back
Covered with dust and sin
Love tried to take me in
But my soul drew back…

Madonna’s ballad clearly riffs on George Herbert’s 17th century poem, “Love bade me welcome.” And her singing these words in the mid 1990’s, more than 300 years after Herbert penned his, suggests that drawing back from God is nothing new, that we humans have been drawing back from God for centuries. Indeed, one could trace our tendency to withdraw from God not merely to George Herbert in the 17th century, but to St. Luke the Evangelist in the first. In today’s Gospel Luke writes,

When Simon Peter saw [the great catch of fish], he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

Our record of withdrawing from God extends further back still. Writing more than 800 years before Luke in the 8th century BCE, in this morning’s Old Testament lesson the prophet Isaiah described a vision in which he draws back from God:

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

We humans have long drawn back from God. And my hunch is—if we are honest with ourselves—we still draw back from God.

While we could look at ourselves and wonder why we draw back, it might be more interesting to look rather at God, and to ask why—despite our tendency to rebuff God—God yet persists in “bidding us welcome.” Why would God yet persist in God’s advances even as we continue to rebuff God?

My hunch is that we know why God persists in God’s advances. Never mind that God loves us—or enjoys us or delights in us, or however we want to put it—“We are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it,” writes Julian of Norwich. And deep down I think we know that this God who loves us beyond comprehension wants “to fill and invade” us, as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity writes. And I think we know, too, that this God who wants to fill and invade us wants even “to come and take possession” of us, as Simone Weil puts it. And having “filled,” “invaded” and “taken possession” of us, I think we know in our heart of hearts that God may well ask us, as God asked Isaiah, to be sent; or that God may ask us, as God asked Peter, to go “fish for people.” And I have a hunch we know also that even after we have agreed to be sent or to go, God is likely to make yet further advances, perhaps asking us as one of the Desert Fathers asked, “Why not become all fire?’” (Abba Joseph). For, as we know from the letter to the Hebrews, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29).

In short, we continue to rebuff God’s advances because deep down we know and we fear—whatever language we may use for it: being preciously loved, love bidding us welcome, being filled, being invaded, taken possession of, sent, fishing for people—God’s desire; we fear this consuming fire.

Or, is water and thirst a more fitting image for God’s desire?

Which brings us to the Welsh priest and poet R.S. Thomas and a poem he wrote about God’s desire. Ann Griffiths, for whom the poem is named, was an uneducated 19th century Welsh farmer who, tradition says, spurned marriage in favor of God; and who, Welsh speakers insist, though she died at age 29, was one of the greatest religious poets Europe ever produced. To borrow from Thomas’ poem, the church in 19th century Wales was marked by “arid sermons,” by “thin hymns of the mind,” and by “unreal tears.” Through Ann God renewed the Church and quenched not only the people’s, but also God’s thirst. Again, though it is called “Ann Griffiths,” Thomas’ poem is about desire—about God’s desire. In which we, like Ann—if we choose—can play a part:

So God spoke to her,
she the poor girl from the village
without learning. “Play me,”
He said, “on the white keys of your body.
I have seen you dance
for the bridegrooms that were not
to be, while I waited for you
under the ripening boughs of
the myrtle. These people know me
only in the thin hymns of
the mind, in the arid sermons
and prayers. I am the live God,
nailed fast to the old tree
of a nation by its unreal
tears. I thirst, I thirst
for the spring water. Draw it up
for me from your heart’s well
and I will change
it to wine upon your unkissed lips.”


Image Credit: Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

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