Yesterday we had a great, world-wide celebration of this little land of ours that some call Canada. Or maybe more accurately, a celebration of the political system that has been in place for 150 years, because as we are all aware, there were people here far before John A. Macdonald ever came up with the idea to create our system of territories, provinces, power and legislation.
I sat in the basement yesterday and was approached by Lorna who asked the most important question of the day. Tea or Coffee? In other words, what are you thirsty for?
I also noticed that there was water and juice available for the folks who wanted a caffeine free alternative. That’s hospitality and welcome. And of course, there was the beer garden down at the river front, and peach smoothies, and there were all kinds of pop and soda available. For those who wanted something else, Buylow was open as well as the tavern and various liquor stores. We know how to quench our thirst.
But Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson on how to be a good server or bar tender. Jesus is talking about a different thirst. The thirst of the soul. The thirst for something that we may not even be able to put into words. The thirst for ‘living water’.
Nursing homes talk about the three plagues of aging: loneliness, helplessness and hopelessness. Those three are confined to the elderly. We all struggle with them and that struggle can lead us into trouble.
Loneliness is easy to fix, right? Just hang out with a crowd. Go down to the riverside and watch the fireworks explode and hear Doug and the Slugs sing “Day by Day” and “Making it work”. Look around and see who else is singing along, and you have a friend for life, right?
Not so much. There are times when the loneliest place to be is in a crowd. Imagine a new immigrant to Athabasca who doesn’t speak the language, know the music or understand the references to people like Stompin’ Tom. Who wonder why everyone is jumping up and down singing, “It’s a Heave Ho coming down the plains, stealing wheat and barley and all the other grains”.
Or someone who is caught in depression, or fearing the family bully that they will see at the evening barbecue. Loneliness is difficult one to fix because when we try too hard, when we collect people like they are beads on a necklace or notches on a gun, we alienate them. We also find people who can be manipulative despite our best efforts, who can be abusive, controlling or just having the wrong opinion because they are the only folks in the world who believe blackberries are better than apples or vice versa.
Helplessness is vicious. We grew up with toxic family systems, we got used to being bullied, abused, or controlled by people or culture or politics. We feel like we have no power. Often our response is to grab on to it as hard as we can, which can also become toxic. We try to get on every board in town, we control every inch of our house, we organize the cans on our shelves like soldiers, we still have hospital corners on our beds, we tell our children and friends how to behave where and when. This can be fine, but it can also get out of control and the next thing we discover our adult children challenge us on our own attempts to control and fix them. How many stories have we heard of countries who rise up to defeat a political system like apartheid or communism, only to hear that chaos is still erupting as people scramble to replace them with something just as ruthless?
Then there’s hopelessness. We ask, “is that all there is?” and think that if we keep dancing, we can ignore the hole we feel at that thought.
We give up on life and don’t try anything new. Or we put our hope in money or stuff or politics or our autograph collection or our house or our stocks and bonds. I read about Eldon Foote on CBC yesterday. He was born and raised in Hanna Alberta, and went to the University of Alberta. He also became a multimillionaire, and on his death gave most of his money to charities, and only a token amount to his third wife or his numerous children. Money doesn’t quench our thirst for hope.
These three plagues, loneliness, helplessness and hopelessness are rampant and we search for a new Garden of Eden to cure them. Canada is not the Garden of Eden. Hopefully it is evolving in that general direction, by such historic events as the Truth and Reconciliation commission and future opportunities to listen to each other. But even the most naïve optimists will never claim that Canada is a Garden of Eden. We can get angry at that, and there are times when we must stand on guard for that, but I think we miss an important opportunity.
We are called to be in reconciliation not just with each other, but with the very heart of creation, the giant mystery that we put a tiny label on, God. When we work to reconcile ourselves with God, we find our thirst finally quenched. We find real community. We find a shared voice that speaks loudly and strongly for equality. We find the ability to practise radical hospitality. And we find an amazing picture of hope for the future, one that we build together with others who share in our thirst to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly in this beautiful land the Creator has given us. When we serve living water to our thirsty neighbors, through our kind looks, our careful listening and our willingness to support them in our journey, we are making a great legacy, on earth as it is in heaven. May it be so.