From the 55th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The first time I really encountered this passage of Scripture was while I was on a silent retreat. Sr. Lorraine asked me to read this passage,slowly and repeatedly, during the course of a day. I read it, slowly, out loud, and went for a hike on the retreat center grounds. I read it in the chapel, in my room at the retreat center. By the end of the day, I knew it by heart. These living words from Isaiah have often served to challenge, prod, comfort and humble me.
All you who thirst… that’s everyone. We are among the thirsty. We seek love, acceptance, fulfillment, and meaning. We thirst for acceptance, for a sense that these lives of ours matter, have meaning and that we can make a difference. In moments of questioning and seeking, we thirst for a sense of the presence and love of God. So Isaiah tells us that if we thirst, be sure and go to the One who can slake our parched souls! The “water” Isaiah refers to is a wonderful symbol for that living presence of God. For us as Christians, what a wonderful way to think about the life-giving waters of baptism!
Let’s jump down to verses 8 & 9. Through the prophet, God is reminding us that He does not think like we do. This seems really basic, right?! I mean, if I spend just a few moments in my own head, I have pretty clear and convincing evidence that I do not think like God. I can get easily caught up in judging, blaming, resentments, jealousy, pride, and the list could go on… I don’t mean to indicate that I am somehow confessing to my readers here,nor am I bewailing my manifold sins in comparison with the rest of humanity. Rather, 17 years of parish priesthood and listening to people has helped me to see that my thoughts, like all of us, can, if I allow, them, get me in trouble or take me down paths that will not bring me to the fulfillment, contentment, and sense of peace that Isaiah lays out in this passage. Along these lines, an old maxim we were taught in seminary may illustrate what I am describing:
Sow an attitude, reap a thought
Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a behavior
Sow a behavior, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a life.
So today I am going to challenge you in the spirit of Sr. Lorraine (she is still directing retreatants and is now living in Casco, Wisconsin). Read this passage. Again and again. Let it speak to you. Where, in your life, are you thirsting? In what ways have you tried to quench that thirst? Spend some time today with your thoughts. How do your thoughts shape and inform who you are, what you believe, how you live? How could some time in prayer help you to examine your thoughts and your inner life?