I would consider myself a conscientious water drinker, in that I always make sure I’m drinking it. I drink a full glass when I get up in the morning before my coffee, and I carry around one of those travel cups with a straw and count how many times I fill it up during the day. I’m endlessly disappointed that “Drink plenty of water!” isn’t in the book of Proverbs. I am the Queen of Hydration, so I can’t remember the last time I was really thirsty. I can’t remember the last time I longed for water; I can’t remember the last time I was thankful for it. Upon reflection, I am surprised to find that hidden somewhere inside my enthusiasm is a kind of apathy, an ingratitude.
Psalm 42 begins with water. And not water in relation to the psalmist or to another person, but water in relation to a deer. A deer panting over it, longing for it. This deer instinctively knows what I have to work really hard to remember: My life depends on drinking water. I forget because I have never had to remember. I have never had water coming out of my faucet that is unsafe to drink, like in a city not so far from me. I drink freely, habitually, ungratefully.
This Psalm tells the story of one who is longing, thirsting for God. For an unspecified reason, the psalmist is being oppressed, cut-off from God’s presence, and the best way to describe what this feels like is with that metaphor. The thirst that the psalmist has for God is like the thirst a deer has for water; it is a thirst for that which she needs to survive. In the midst of her thirst, the psalmist connects to the memory of what it was like to drink deeply of the presence of the Lord. This memory seems to lift and carry her to a place of certainty that “I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (v. 11). I have been a Christian for a long time. I’m surrounded by Bibles, devotionals, and theology books; the last 8 years of my formal education has been focused on God, the Bible, and church. But I can’t remember the last time I longed for God, I can’t remember the last time I sat in gratitude for God’s presence. The psalmist knows what I have to work really hard to remember: God is my survival. I forget because I have never had to remember. I drink freely, habitually, and ungratefully of God’s presence.
So today I sat in a nest of blankets and pillows with my Bible open, holding a tall glass of water. I began reading Psalm 42, and at every verse I lingered and took a long, slow sip from the glass. I noted the temperature, that it seemed to me to be the perfect level of cold. I tasted the sweetness that I imagine can only come from minerals. As I swallowed, I could feel the cold move all the way down to my stomach. I became so aware that I was giving my body what it needed to function and to perform the processes necessary for survival. Life is in this glass of water. As I read, I paused over words and phrases, tasting them, letting the water I was sipping carry with it the weight of God’s presence.
We will all find ourselves in the position of the psalmist at some point: desperately thirsty, cut off from the source of life. Each of us will come to a place of feeling lost, of feeling far from the Lord. Each of us will experience the feeling of trying to reach God but someone or something is in the way. But when we are attentive and when we are grateful, we fill a deep well with memory to draw on in these moments. Drink deep of the God now, for the power of the Spirit is such that even the memory of the Lord’s presence will carry you.