Water is often used as a symbol of the Spirit of God. On a physical level, our lives depend on water, and we are surrounded and formed by water; on a spiritual level, our lives depend on God. Images of water as a symbol of renewal and a reminder of thirst, both physical and spiritual, are plentiful throughout the Bible. In the Book of Genesis we read that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The psalms compare the desire humans have for God to the way “a deer longs for flowing streams” (Psalms 42:1). Jesus, too, expressed his thirst as he was dying on the cross.
When Jesus met the woman at the well in Samaria, he told her, “The water that I will give will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus first addressed this woman in terms of her physical thirst—for the water in the well—but then changed the subject to her spiritual thirst. We all know well the physical experience of thirst—the burning sensation in our throats, the headaches, the dryness in the mouth, the dizziness. If this feeling is so acute, then how much more acute is our spiritual thirst?Turning on a water faucet can remind us of our own spiritual thirst—what our souls long for, what would bring us refreshment. God calls us to acknowledge this thirst, and to relieve it by drawing from the well of prayer. Our spiritual thirst might speak to our personal worries, or to the places in the world where people need renewal, hope, and relief from suffering. This simple step of connecting the waters of the world to the waters of our souls can in itself help to transform the world. The woman at the well learned from Jesus that a material thing such as water cannot give us lasting peace; at best, it can give us only temporary satisfaction. By contrast, faith in Jesus Christ and imitation of his example can be the source of lasting vitality for us and for those whose lives we touch.