Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 27:
A cup of water

The beautiful Caite gave me this exquisite pottery tumbler a short while ago. It keeps water cool and steamed almond milk warm. Its size is perfect to rest between my two hands, its craggy surface somehow reassuring to the touch.

When we would arrive at someone's house in India on a hot day, invariably we would be offered something to drink -- our hosts in even the poorest of homes, where provisions might be scarce, would take out their best tumblers and offer some cool water to refresh us.

Each time I drink from this special cup I am reminded of how many blessings I have been given. And I think of how I am told that the simple act of offering someone a cup of water in Jesus' name will bless both the giver and the recipient.

I love that plain, basic, unglamourous water is the offering of choice. Water is integral to life. Villages and communities can die out when the well or the river dries up. The presence of potable water incites hope and optimism no matter how bleak other circumstances may appear.

The story is told of the man who was travelling between two cities when he was accosted by highwaymen and bandits, who beat him and robbed him and left him for dead at the side of the road. A religious leader happened to be travelling that way shortly after the incident occurred; perhaps thinking that the man was dead and maybe not wanting to defile himself, he moved to the other side of the road and kept going. Some time passed and then another spiritual leader appeared, one whose heritage was to serve in the place of worship and also to operate cities of refuge where people could find safety and solace. Even this man, bred to help others, gave him no more than a passing glance and continued on his way.

But then a third man, one with some substance but nevertheless one who would have been scorned because of his ethnicity by the two spiritual leaders, and even by the dying man were he not almost past the point of hope, happened by. He also noticed the beaten man; but instead of carrying on his way he stopped and took stock of his injuries and no doubt of his whole person too. The story recounts that he poured olive oil and wine into his wounds; it is probably not too big of a stretch to imagine that if the wounded man were conscious his rescuer would have offered him something to drink. When the injured man was able to travel his rescuer transported him to a nearby inn and tended to him through that night. The next morning he commissioned the inn keeper to look after him, giving the man an advance on his room charge and saying that he had to go on to fulfill the purpose of his trip, but that he would be back shortly and would settle the injured man's tab upon his return.

I have no doubt that the moment the injured man knew this last man could be trusted and had his best interests at heart was when his benefactor poured out some water, or the wine or oil, and tended to his needs. And he received hope that he would be taken care of, that he would recover, that he was not going to be just another statistic in the city's homicide countdown for the year.

Another story tells of a woman who had lost all sense of personal value and dignity, who was reduced to fetching water for her household at a time when none of the other women of the village were likely to be there because she couldn't bear the whispers, the knowing looks, the outright snubs.

Jesus arrived at the well and instantly recognized the one thing she would know she could do to help Him: "Please give me some water," he asked.

Such a simple request. But it uncovered the first faint hope that someone saw her for who she was and who she longed to be, not the outwardly brash woman cowering inwardly under the weight of her indiscretions and tarnished reputation and social leper status.

And once the spark of hope that she still had something valuable to offer was ignited, Jesus turned the tables on her and offered her unlimited quantities of living water that would wash away her sin and pain and renew her soul and refresh her spirit and outlook. When she received hope, and the forgiveness and love she so desperately craved, she couldn't wait to share it with her fellow citizens.

Even a small child can offer someone a cup of water -- and therein might lie the rub. It seems too simple, rather an anticlimactic gesture, to extend this simple courtesy to someone. But if we do it in the right spirit we might be the means of restoring hope and dignity and importance to someone's life.

The unknown writer commented, "Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope."

That little cup of water, that kind word, even that simple wordless hug when I don't know what to say, might be the tiny nudge of encouragement that someone needs to help them bear their load, to help them on their way, to tell them that they are not alone. Everyone needs water. Everyone needs hope. Surely I can find moments during the course of my day to offer the former, which could very well lead down the road to the latter ...

I am so grateful for the water in my earthenware tumbler this evening.

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