Several weeks ago, I stood at the front of a church on the east coast, a former Methodist sanctuary that had sat empty for a few years before the faith community that invited me to speak began to use the space. I made note of how it effortlessly possessed the aesthetic so many "hip" churches on the west coast work to create, what with gorgeous stained glass windows that colored the worn wood floors with streams of light.
Wireless mic tucked carefully behind my ear, I began the morning's service by describing my affinity for the gospel of John. While the other gospels are just as inspired and important, I qualified, John reads like a book written by a man undone, a man intoxicated by what he has encountered in the life, death, and resurrection of this itinerant preacher from Nazareth.
I invited the community to turn to John 7, where in verses 37-39, Jesus makes the outrageous claim that those who are thirsty can come to him and drink. This startling announcement, John tells us, happens on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a water celebration that centered around the rain that kept the ancient community alive.
However, I expounded, the people understood the festival to be just as much about spiritual water as it was about physical water. Yes, they were celebrating God's past and present provisions, but this was also a gathering of a marginalized and weary community longing for their promised future, where, as the prophets of old described, God's Sent One would come, lift the heavy burden of foreign occupation from their shoulders, and make things right.
I moved on and explained how the Jewish priests would read from Ezekiel 47, where the prophet describes rivers of water rushing from the Temple and flooding miles of seemingly godforsaken desert between the house of worship and the Dead Sea, and how that water would make the salt laden sea fresh.
People will fish in it, and fruit trees will grow on it's banks, and the fruit will serve for food, and it's leaves for healing.
It was here that I stretched my arms open wide, and quoted Ezekiel,
For wherever the water goes, everything lives.
Perhaps there is a place in your life, or in your realm of influence, that you have deemed to be as hopeless and godforsaken as the desert between the temple and the Dead Sea, I said, bringing the message to a close.
Whatever you have given up hope of being made well, that you’ve written off as too damaged or broken to ever be beautiful again, whatever you have stopped praying for—here I motioned for the congregation to join me in praying, with upturned hands—come Lord Jesus, quencher of thirst, source of life.
I can't tell you exactly how a desert becomes a stream with fruit trees on it's banks. All of our stories are different, with their own time tables & mismatched pieces. I'd venture as far as to say that healing consists of equal parts showing up for ourselves and being shown up for, of miracles mixed with hard work.
I can tell you that a stretch of my own desert, an old wound I had fought with every inch of my small frame to make well in my early twenties, recently transformed into a scar.
I had done the work, I had leaned into the pain and let it shape me into a stronger, wiser, more vibrant person than I had been before.
I had made my peace.
This kind Jesus, the source of living water, saw fit to grant me a piece of healing I could not receive on my own.
I can't tell you, exactly, how a wound becomes a scar.
But I think it tastes like a vanilla latte, too late in the day to be drinking, and it looks like blue eyes on the face of an old friend with whom you forgot it was so easy to laugh.
It sounds like apologies and affirmations of who you've always known each other to be, laid over the hum of a crowded coffee shop.
And it feels like the hard wood of your apartment floor as you lay face down before the Lord, undone by the way he can make a desert turn into a river, and cause trees to spring up & bear fruit in what was once hard and lifeless ground.