Thirsty. The state of being so has become a colloquialism. There is the formal dictionary, Merriam-Webster, meaning and then there is the Urban Dictionary meaning: 1. To be eager to get something (usually romantic/sexual attention) 2. Desperate
On tumblr, there was a post of a sign, “Be ambitious, not thirsty.” At other times, when I’ve seen or heard the colloquial phrase used, the word had a negative connotation. The accepted idea is that being thirsty is bad because you appear to be a desperate fool.
Both definitions go beyond a benign need for that which one lacks, like water for instance. When the body wants water, our brains signal this need through thirst. Oftentimes, we misinterpret the signal and reach for food, soda, or some other replacement–each substitute has a modicum of water, which fills us to a certain degree, albeit inadequately. Unfortunately, the craving thirst continues until we get something. Our body compensates (reaching for something other than water) in a way that makes us feel satisfied. Overtime, our bodies become dehydrated on a physiological level and we function at a deficit to the detriment of all the micro and macro functions our bodies need to carry out.
This is a fitting metaphor for the innate longing for satiety we feel.
In high school, I felt my first deep longings for what I interpreted as God. I was thirsty. I was given a book years ago, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by George Bernard Shaw. If I had to title my autobiography, such a title would be fitting. It is still being written.
Religion was always around me like a vine with roots deeper than my existence. I attended church regularly. Vacation bible school, Easter speeches, and church choir were the regular menu items in my religion buffet. Somehow my teenage mind felt these things were inadequate or inauthentic–as if I were playing dress up in my mother’s clothes. The accoutrements were real, but they didn’t fit me. I was still thirsty.
I have an aunt who was then (and now) a devout believer and follower of a brand of Christianity called, “Pure Holiness.” It is a division of pentecostalism. My aunt and her religion intrigued me. She read her bible religiously. She didn’t wear makeup or pants, only skirts. Her religion taught her to draw a heavy line between the sacred and the secular. Much later this sort of restrictive, prescriptive way of being religious would become undesirable for me. Then, I wanted to know God in a way that manifested itself in significant and tangible ways. At the time, I did not know anyone else so godly, someone who wore their church face all the time. Everyone else around me was decidedly human. Not my aunt. She was always godly, and I was totally and completely wowed.
I began visiting her during Spring Break when her church had their revival. I wanted to “be saved” so I did the needful according to the teachings of her church. I repented of my evil ways whatever that meant. Thereafter I went to the altar and tarried (waited) there until I was knocked out by some unseen force. When I awoke I would be irrevocably changed, cleansed, and reborn. I would no longer be thirsty. After many tarrying events at the altar, I was never knocked out. The skies did not open. No celestial choirs sang. I was the same. Alas, I continued to read the bible and attend church, but the thirstiness persisted.
Finally, at the end of high school, I found the restrictive and prescriptive path to God I had desired, Seventh-Day Adventism. It wasn’t so much a mind-altering religious experience as it was the sheer force of will on my part. It made sense to me and I embraced it whole-heartedly. I was able to fit everything–life, death, evil, good–in a nice, neat box, at least until I began my academic study of religion in college.
I will leave my adventures as a Seventh-Day Adventist for another time–a wonderfully, blessed time it was–but my life led me away from that denomination. I believe it was Barbara Brown Taylor in her memoir, Leaving Church, who called herself an ecclesiastical harlot. When I read her book years ago, it resonated with me. That is what I have been in my thirsty search, academically and spiritually, for God. I have an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a Master of Divinity degree. I’ve been a Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal, and Christian Methodist Episcopal. I think that is all. I have been obsessed with Soren Kierkegaard, and consumed at times with existential angst. Most recently I have read the teachings of the Buddha and practiced meditation. And I am still thirsty.
This morning during my morning devotion I was led to read a passage from Matthew 5:6:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
The title of the meditation on this scripture from Mary Lou Redding’s, The Power of a Focused Heart, was, “Satisfied with Being Unsatisfied.” What a revelation it was to read this meditation!? Though I had long since recognized that the genesis of my thirst–that same thirst that began in high school–was a quest for God, I have often (to return to my water/thirst metaphor) grabbed for replacements for God. I have sought self-actualization from people, praise, and accomplishments. In the same way that water substitutes are not inherently bad–those things and the wanting thereof are not inherently bad either. Being thirsty is not bad. The challenges have arisen when I have made idols or sticky attachments to quench that thirst. The promise in the beatitudes is that the thirsty ones are blessed because they will be filled. The satiety is not sure and complete unless the filling comes from God. In that way, I can be whole and able to join with others on the journey with compassion and love.
I am convinced that we are all on some kind of God journey. There is no one-size fits all prescription like what I sought in high school, but it is a daily, hourly, to the second, journey. The challenge is to stay on the true path, seek the authentic source, and eschew the substitutes.
“As the dear longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…”