On Wednesdays through each month, I'll be exploring topics that Friends Journal, Quaker Life, State of Formation and other Journals publish as possible topics on which to submit articles. I'm expecting for the time being that I will not be submitting what I write to these sources, however, its a chance to think about different topics prior to reading the articles that are published in those journals. Its an experience of entering into the community of thought that swirls around each of these themes. If something sparks and develops into a submission, great! If not, then I hope that my posts can start the conversation among my readers and maybe even inspire someone else to write and submit as they are led. First off, Friends Journal is looking for submissions for its June/July 2014 issue around the theme: Concepts of God.
Friends Journal June/July 2014: Concepts of God How do you conceive of the center of your Quakerism? Whether you identify as a believer, agnostic or nontheist, whether you use the “G” word or not, we hope you’ll share what is at the center of your Quaker practice. We welcome all to the table so that we can better understand the diversity and richness of Quaker belief. Submission deadline March 1.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is one example of how, in the Christian Scriptures, water is also used as a symbol of the Spirit of God. It is a common image of the Divine that even the Religious Society of Friends uses often. William Taber, a Quaker theologian, also used water to represent a collective experience. Taber described the communion of Quaker worship as individuals entering into an eternal stream. As worshippers step into this stream, they are swept up in the current of the Holy Spirit. This is why messages that emerge from Quaker worship speak to the communal experience, not just the experience of the individual who is sharing.
The term “living water” is actually not used in the text but the water that Jesus offers the Samaritan women is everlasting and quenches thirst for eternity. The only other mention of living water as such is in the Revelation 7:17 where the lamb leads the faithful to a fountain of living water. The lamb is thought to symbolize Jesus and therefore the Samaritan woman would be among the faithful. The fountain may be part of the ontology of the myth of the fountain of eternal youth. In the movie, The Adventures of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, drinking water from the cup of Christ was through to bring eternal life. The symbolism of everlasting life in water spring forth from a fountain or well is evident in ancient and modern mythology.
Neither the text of John 4:10-15 nor Revelation 7:17 equates the living water with Jesus. Rather Jesus is the guide that brings the faithful to drink. Regardless, over the course of Christian history, Jesus has been depicted and described as the living waters. This development claims that through Jesus individuals are cleaned and reborn. Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection parallels the death and rebirth cycle associated with the symbolism of water (think water cycle). Symbolic death and rebirth are ritualized in the practice of Christian baptism.
The theology of the living waters and its enactment through baptism assumes that the living waters are pure and clean. If Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, and Jesus is the fulfillment of the symbolic living waters, then living waters have some aspect of humanity laced among its divinity. Some view this humanity as an obstacle to the fulfillment of divinity. I believe that our humanity is wrapped up in God’s divinity and it is rather obstacles such as greed and violence that threaten the living water.
Is it then possible that the living waters are tainted?
What if it is symbolically laced with cyanide, arsenic or typhoid, otherwise known as violence, greed, and pride? What does it mean to drink water that gives us life but also makes us sick? In today’s world clean water is a scarce resource. The majority of people living in the developing world do not have access to clean water and therefore must either go to great lengths to purify their water or struggle through the sickness that comes along with the substance of life.
The most common form of water purification is boiling. When the temperature of water is raised over 212 degree Fahrenheit or 100 degree Celsius, most bacteria contaminants are eradicated. Viral contaminants remain in the water resistant to high temperatures, but are less common. Natives of regions where viral contaminants reside often develop immunity to the viruses over time. Boiling water also requires fuel and the acquisition of fuel often costs human life. Women in the Sudan, Uganda, and northern Congo risk their lives daily to find water and fuel to keep their families alive. Extreme violence from rebel and roaming armies is targeted at these women.
In other places around the world, such as India and the Kibera slums in Kenya, fuel for water purification is simply not available. Population increase, intense poverty and ecological limitations have created human habitats without sewage drainage or running water. Bacteria and water-borne viruses claim the lives of thousands of people, mostly children, every year.
Some social scientists predict that the reason for the next large scale international conflict will be concerning water rights, not oil rights. Access to fresh water, glaciers, desalinization plants and underground aquifers will be sold, disputed and restricted. The victims of this projected conflict will be the poor. The well of everlasting life will only be available to the elite.
The body’s natural defense system interaction with environmental invaders often looks like a cosmic battle, one attacking the other. However, the development of anti-bodies, defense mechanisms, and purification strategies is actually a form of symbiosis. We need anti-bodies to defend against these invaders; it is our prior experience and exposure that builds us up and makes us strong.
What if the image of the living waters is re-imagined as the image of Jesus the immune system. When we wobble or stray from our faith, the mystical/spiritual experience acts as a kind of vaccine. Such a vaccine is not invasive; it is suggestive. A vaccine boosts the immune system, aiding in the development of anti-bodies to fight off viruses. If our spiritual viruses are greed, violence, intolerance and pride, how can we build ourselves and each other up to stand strong against these thing? If we are 60% water, the living water, how can we strengthen our spiritual immune system to keep each other healthy?