During our monthly Quiet Day the spiritual thirst I have felt for years was being met by sitting in the stillness in silent community. Nine of us gathered on a fairly mild February morning at Advent House, an Episcopal house dedicated for spiritual classes, retreats, and spiritual direction. Four of the participants were new to an event supported by our School for Contemplative Living in New Orleans. One lady was attending her second gathering of the School. So half of us did not know each other at all.
Nevertheless, I was quenching a thirst which has been returning for as long as I can remember. And the drinking was in the company of spiritual companions who didn’t necessarily know each other. Some people go to the local bar to drink with companions. Contemplatives drink together in another way.
But the thirst I was quenching will be back, maybe even later in the same day. This is not a thirst permanently quenched by any experience. It is not satiated by the perfect setting, sounds, words, images, smells, or tastes. So being blessed to have a career where I go from one contemplative group to another during each week does not mean I am seeking the quenching that will finally end my thirst. I know Jesus said, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” (John 4:14, NRSV). But my direct experience is more like thirsty, quenching, repeat.
I suspect that this thirst is more like another gate of heaven, an open door, an entryway, a threshold, and no amount of crossing over will end this journey. In fact, I suspect this thirst is a hint of what eternity will be: a perpetual experience of thirsting for oneness with the divine and quenching the thirst as our ultimate destiny. In this sense you could say we are beginning our eternity, our heaven, now.
How curious that within our human nature is both the longing and the cure of our longing. Some Inner Voice keeps calling us back down to an inner fountain. The paradox is that the longing for something and the fountain of that something are both within. Could they even be the same thing? In the moments of contemplative oneness the thirst and the quenching seem to be one. Fascinating!
So here is a secret buried within our true nature. We are safe in abandoning all efforts to quench our thirst with any external thing. Quenching cannot be purchased. Marketers beware! If this secret gets out there will be hell to pay for any business that sells products. National economies could be shaken. Stock markets could crash. All of capitalism could fall.
But don’t panic, this secret – that what quenches our perpetual thirst for more is already inside us – will not be discovered on a massive scale. This secret is located through personal experience of the quenching by one person at a time. And the discovery draws the person to gather with others seeking the same quenching. I think the metaphor of people gathering at a bar is a great parallel for contemplatives.
How weird that in giving up all efforts to quench our thirst with our own means we can finally be full. And how amazing that this thirst for oneness keeps coming back just like physical thirst. You would think we were made with thirst built in. Wait, could it be that this thirst is built into the fabric of human nature just like physical thirst?
My occupation is to sit in quiet spaces, (at least fairly quiet), in the company of monks in the world, my silent companions, quenching our spiritual thirst at an inner fountain, for free. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it. In fact, you too can find this vocation. We are twenty-first century contemplatives who are always looking for the next group of companions with whom to quench our thirst. We have room at the bar for you.
May our thirst guide us to the Inner Fountain.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.