By Pastor John J. Pawloski - October 1st, 2023
Exodus 17:2-7 (NRSVue)
The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do for this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
When I was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night all the time. I could not figure it out, but I was thirsty, so thirsty that I needed a tall drink of water each night. What I later came to realize is that I was dehydrated. I was not used to the arid conditions of the desert, and my body was telling me that I was depleted of fluids even though I was merely sleeping. In Arizona, the climate is so dry that perspiration evaporates before you know you are sweating. I began to drink more water throughout the day and this seemed to help. In life, we sometimes find ourselves in a spiritual desert. Like me in the Arizona desert, if you are not accustomed to your conditions, you might find yourself spiritually dehydrated. We have all been taught the importance of drinking several glasses of water a day, and most of us still do not drink enough water. This is true even though in the modern era, we have all kinds of fancy bottles and cups for transporting our water wherever we go. If only we took such measures to ensure our spiritual selves would be so attended to. What if we stopped several times to pray? When was the last time you filled your spiritual cup?
Life is busy. I get it. Who has twenty minutes a day for prayer? Isn't it enough that I give money to the church and spend an hour there on Sunday? Well, the answer is this: you get out of your spirituality what you put into it. If you spend ten minutes a week listening to God, don’t be surprised if you are spiritually dehydrated. So what is the cure? Well, there is no one size fits all solution, but you can never go wrong with prayer. There are many kinds of prayers. We are familiar with folding hands, bowing our heads, and offering God a heart-felt word centering us with our needs and blessings. I need to do more of that. But there are other ways of praying such as turning off the radio in your car and asking God to guide you in some way. To put a word on your heart. To let you see the presence of God in your midst. We believe God is still speaking, but are you still listening? I believe this is the highest form of prayer, and perhaps the one we are least comfortable with—we need to practice this more.
There are other ways of prayer such as cheerfully doing the dishes for someone else. The key is to do it cheerfully. Not as a chore, but as a means of honoring God and blessing those around you. You might also pick three people you come across each day and tell them something nice about them as a form of prayer. Maybe do an act of kindness each day to benefit a stranger. Maybe go on a retreat. Prayer does not have to be words. It can be deeds.
St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, is known for his writings on spiritual direction and spiritual discipline. He sought to foster an environment where people would be actively engaged in the world while taking time to consider what sort of work they should do in the world. This is known as being contemplatives in action, a mix of prayer and deeds. The key element of this practice is to stop several times a day and check in with God. This is a rigorous practice, and frankly many of us may not be ready just yet. We might have to build up to this kind of sustained prayer and reflection. Consider yourself to be a spiritual athlete. Perhaps right now you are a bit out of shape. Like getting winded when you walk up a flight of stairs, only it's your soul that is fatigued. Like an Olympic athlete, you have to start to train. Maybe start with the first and last thing you do each day. Maybe pray every time you plug in your cell phone. Just as your phone needs power, your soul needs recharging throughout the day as well. Maybe unplug your TV or radio and see how much time you have to pray?
Remember, Jesus prayed. All the time. Yes, Jesus, the son of God, took time to pray a lot. If you do not take time to devote to your spiritual life then you have no spiritual life. If you can take time to save for your retirement of say 10 or so years, shouldn’t you take some time to invest in the rest of eternity? I am amazed at the people who so earnestly work hard so that they can enjoy their retirement, but don’t give any thought to what may be needed to enjoy the rest of eternity? Just as the Israelites were so disconnected from God that they did not see that God always provides for them, we too get dissatisfied with our relationship with God when we have not put the effort in to make something of our connection with God. God is always available, but we get too busy. And we wonder why we are a spiritually thirsty people?