The Third Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2023
As our Lenten theme this year Celebration Circle has chosen It Depends on Faith. I like that idea. I am thinking of faith as the foundation of my spiritual life. Like the foundation under a building faith has to be rock solid.
Traditionally, Lent is a season of preparation for the celebration of Easter. These two liturgical seasons track the natural seasons of the northern hemisphere, winter becomes spring; the time to preserve energy for the next season of growth.
In the gospel scripture, when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well he asks for a drink of water. As they talk she realizes who she is speaking to, and Jesus offers her living water with which she would never thirst again. Jesus then begins to tell her about her past, and she, amazed runs off to share the news. Jesus never gets the glass of water.
In the Hebrew passage Moses has led his people into an arid wilderness, and they are unhappy. They are tired. They are thirsty. They demand to know why they were freed from slavery and servitude in Egypt where life was easy. They threaten Moses with violence so he goes to God about it. God tells Moses to take his iconic staff and hit a certain rock. Water will come out of it. Moses does what God tells him to do.
As I read these familiar stories my attention focused on the rock, the source of the water. The bible doesn’t say how big the rock was but I can imagine a rock the size of a city’s water tank on fifty foot legs might be a good size, though I also know that plenty of water can come out of something the size of a faucet.
The internet says there is a rock with a dramatic cleft called The Split Rock in the Saudi Arabian desert. It is fifty feet tall on top of a hundred foot mountain. No one living can say for sure if that was the actual rock.
It is enough to know that the wandering people were given enough water to continue on their journey to the land God promised them. Eventually, the Israelites crossed into their Promised Land.
By Jesus’ time the Promised Land was where he and the Samaritan woman lived, and the living water he offers her is an invitation to somewhere else; beyond her present reality.
This year, 2023, on January third, around 5:30 pm, a Promised Land appeared for me. That was the end of my last shift at the Georgetown university library. I retired.
I stayed late that day, because I was tidying my workspace and putting labels on shelves so whomever took up my responsibilities would know where I had actually left, actual things (like fresh batteries, mic clips, light stands, and so forth), so I didn’t carry my loaded boxes to the loading dock till after seven pm.
The Spring semester at Georgetown doesn’t start till the middle of January so early in the year the library closes at six pm, and librarians often extend their Christmas breaks to take advantage of the inter-session period. I was probably the last person in the library on that Tuesday evening. I turned off the lights and I left for the day, for the week, for life.
I was fired from George Washington University in 2018 and it was seven months before I got the job at Georgetown. During those months after GW, I was depressed for the first time in my life and things were not easy for Deborah. I was supported by her, my mission group, at men’s breakfast, and with prayers from the church, and am grateful for that spiritual support.
I was relieved to get the job at Georgetown but I knew it would be for a short time. I walked past the stone wall at the entrance, then into the gate onto campus, would glance up at Healy Hall with its clock tower, carillon, and lovely green patina details; and almost always would remind myself that one day I would walk that path for the last time. From the first day, my plan for a job at Georgetown included leaving as soon as possible. By December last year, Deborah and I finally saw that we could afford to live without my paycheck, so I submitted my letter of resignation.
Last summer my father, who lives in Los Angeles, was admitted to a hospital for pain in his chest. He has a history of heart trouble so this was taken seriously. I went out to visit him. He survived and gradually returned to his regular life. I decided that I should spend time with him now while he was still alive. I did not want to regret missing his last years. This desire contributed to my decision to retire when I did.
I’ve gone out to California once a month since. Deborah has come out with me whenever she could. Both my father and I are grateful for her help and presence.
When my mother died in 2017 dad said that he wanted to live in his house, with one of my sisters to help him. We all said “fine.” But on one of my visits last year he told me that he wanted to move to a home, and I said “okay.” In the past two months we did a lot of research, visited facilities, talked to a salespeople, and found a place that felt friendly and safe.
On his birthday, February 10th, we spent several hours signing the final paperwork, paying the fee, and getting keys to his room. Later that evening, we took him to Applebees where my brother, who lives near Berkley, made it in time for dinner. Dad stood up and told us he was grateful that all of his children were there, and that he was looking forward to life in a new home. He especially thanked me and Deborah because he would not have been able to figure out all of the paperwork himself. Deborah and I left Los Angeles the next day.
We flew back a week later to help pack his things, meet the movers, buy IKEA furniture; put it together, we bought a refrigerator, microwave, and other stuff. We moved him into his new home, then flew home again.
At home as I was recovering from jet lag I worried that he would have trouble fitting in. He was now in a new situation with new people to deal with. I could imagine the worst possible outcome: that he would be unhappy and beg to leave. I prayed for all of us.
A couple of days later he called. He – called me, on his cell phone. A tiny miracle, but things got better. He said that he was not able to sleep one night because he was worried about old ladies in the home who never had visitors. He thought they were feeling sad and lonely. He told me he was going to talk to someone everyday and become a friend so they would know they weren’t alone. Deborah and I think that he has found a call.
I think his life will be better, and very glad about that. All of the staff that we have met are warm and we see that they care about their charges. He will be checked on regularly, and he even says he likes the food.
I think the end of a year is a natural time to look back; and the beginning of a year is when I look ahead. When I think about how my full-time work ended, I automatically look back to when and where I started.
My first full time job was a summer position in the Los Angeles County library system. The department I worked in was Technical Services. My main responsibility was using an embossing machine to stamp a call number on the spine of a book. Hundreds of the same book-enough for all the libraries in Los Angeles. I also learned how to put book jackets on, paste pockets in, and mark the books. You might be interested to know that in the LA library system the property stamp goes on both the title page, and page 100.
My working life is bookended with library work (pun intended). I forgot that I started working with books until I recently looked back but I find that fact altogether appropriate.
I feel myself balanced between oldness and youngness.
The young adults at the university remind me of myself as they try to look ahead, and train for their careers. I find it hopeful to see them so busy and serious about their lessons; then timid as they try out their first steps beyond college. I wish them luck and happiness, just like I had luck and found a lot of happiness as I became a responsible adult, maybe I should say I as I am still becoming an adult.
In my dad I see my own future. He sits patiently waiting with his shoulders hunched and his fingers laced in his lap, somehow beatific and serene. He doesn’t hear too well so I stand on his left and separate every word with clear, beginnings, and, endings. He has outlived my mother, his wife, by five years so far, and turned 93 on the day we signed the paperwork. I hope he stays with us for years more.
Lent began with the solemn reminder “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And if we are dust we are embedded in the movement of the earth. The seasons sweep over and around us, like weather, immense and impersonal. We are part of the growing life of the planet with the animals, and birds. The infinite repetition of time allows us to grow and learn. Perhaps we become college students, then adults who retire, and maybe live into old age; maybe not.
And faith, which has a forward-looking feeling, with a touch of hope, allows us to choose both kinds of water our scriptures describe: the physical water that one can cook or wash with; that satisfies an earthly thirst; water that flowed from a crack in the earth and will return there with our bodies, and, the living water that wells up from our rock of faith, the Christ; living water that will equip the drinker for an eternity beyond the earthly plane, that might carry us into heaven if we let it.