Give me a drink
Catholic Times Friday October 5th2018
Work songs are part of a tradition that spreads across the planet. People sang as they worked, partly to pass the time through boredom with the task at hand, such as cotton picking in the southern States of America, and partly to inspire co-operation and rhythm at work as with sea shanties. The lyrics tell a story, remember a lost homeland or reflect the arduous nature of work.
One short song attributed to the African American singer, Lead Belly, focuses on the thirst of hard work and toil in a hot climate; it begins with these words
Bring me little water, Sylvie
Bring me little water now
Bring me little water, Sylvie
Every little once in a while
The need to slake a thirst every so often, to have moisture in a dry mouth, is the heartfelt plea made to a mythical Sylvie. It is a plea made every day in many countries where drought is endemic or the quality of drinking water is so poor.
All forms of life on earth depend on water. Much of that life actually lives in the vast swathes of ocean, ranging from the massive whales to the smallest krill. There are now clear indications that life on dry land originated in water, adapting to new conditions over many millions of years.
There are numerous instances in the Gospel narratives that are centred on water, from the Lord’s baptism in the Jordan to his meeting the woman at the well, from the storm on the lake to his plea of thirst uttered from the cross. Water brings with it life for without it we have little chance.
Western Europe has just experienced a long and very hot Summer season, when the ground dried out through lack of rain affecting crop yield and the daily management of water for livestock and the population of towns and cities as reservoir levels fell.
Apart from the practical necessity of water for our survival, there is also the aesthetic beauty of water, be it in a flowing river, a lake, a sudden downpour of rain or the extensive majesty of the ocean. Each in its own way tells a story worth reflecting on for each experience is part of our journey.
The water’s edge, that meeting between water and dry land is a special place. Walking a river bank along a narrow path or track, you are aware of your own security on dry land and the risk that a mistaken footfall might lead to a trip and the subsequent need of at least dry clothing. Falling into a river in spate in Springtime, dry clothes might be the least of your worries; survival would be paramount.
When we see the floods that are the consequence of extreme weather we realise the narrow edge between our survival and loss for the sheer power of a torrent of water challenges our feeble effort to prevent damage. Watching images of people wading waist deep through flooded streets is hard to comprehend, watching young children gathering water from polluted pools for their family is heartbreaking.
Yet there is beauty in the water about us. Being alone at the water’s edge on a beach early in the morning, with the sun beginning to rise over the distant sea horizon, washing out the yawn of sleep or seeing that same sun setting in a riot of colour at the end of the day can be special moments of gratitude. It is a time when the smallness of our being is measured against the immensity of the creation that surrounds us. It is a place of solitude where only gulls wheel and screech, hunting for food, a place of isolation where your voice calling across the strand receives no reply, a place of peace where you walk the sea edge, expecting nothing and no-one calls your name. Idle time spent by water is never wasted.
We bless ourselves with water as we enter a church, just as we were first blessed at our Baptism, just as we will be blessed when friends gather for our Requiem. Water permeates our lives from beginning to end, be it the drops we drink or the daily cleansing our bodies. Without it we have no substance.
It is a time of aridity in the Church, so much has happened that has left us parched and thirsty, casting about, looking for a drink to satisfy our thirst. It is a time when we need to sustain each other, offer our hearts as an outstretched hand in a time of grief, responding to the needs of others just as we hope they will respond to us.
We need Sylvie, in whatever form she may appear, to bring us a little water every little once in a while.