Stuck in the Cistern

The passage I read through today was Jeremiah 38: 1-6, but more specifically verse 6: “There was no water in the cistern.”

Often we feel empty, especially after giving a substantial portion of our strength in an acct of love that is rejected by the intended recipient. It feels like the Ultimate Betrayal. However, what we have to keep in our minds when we experience this emptyness or uselessness is a simple but powerful line: An act of love remains an act of love even if it is rejected. I heard this piece of advice somewhere and it has stayed with me ever since, every time I do an act of kindness and it goes unnoticed, I remember this line and it brings me joy. Why does this line matter so much? I find it so important because of what an act of love accomplishes in the world, an act of love is like a seed, or a spark: it is planted (or jumps) and begins a process of growth. Borrowing the idea of Catherine Doherty, one spark spreads to another heart and ignites the fire of God’s love there, and spurs them on to love someone in their life, and soon a wildfire of holy love is burning in the world.

This line is also important because of the other thing that is addressed in the subtext, which is the fact that the uselessness we are feeling is merely the voice of the world creeping into our hearts. This seems like a total offshoot of what I was talking about before, but I swear it is just the other side of the coin, for you see St. Paul brought it up in his first letter to the Corinthians: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ.” (1 Cor 4:10) That seeming uselessness is only seen when viewed through the lens of worldly success and efficiency, becasue the acts of love don’t bring you to acheiving a better career. And you know what? That is perfectly alright, because the things of this world are not going to last and we are meant for more and better than the things of this world.

So that is what is going on throught the emptiness we feel, but honestly just the headknowledge is never enough. There is a journey we undergo from the head to the heart, throughout our entire lives and it is one of the toughest pilgrimages we will undertake. But we never get to the end, because there are always new paths and diversions and adventures to pass through, we are always growing. In order to live this pilgrim’s life we are called to as Christians, we are required to give of our time and talents; but even more importantly, we need to receive, in fact I would go so far as to say that the two cannot be separated, we need to receive something in order to be able to give to those we meet, otherwise as the passage states above, “There was no water in the cistern.”

I think the use of the word Cistern, or rather the fact that Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern is very interesting, because a cistern is filled by rainwater typically, and if we look at the cistern symbolically, (which we should do when reflecting on scriptures) we can easily see it as our own heart, with the rainfall that fills us up being analogous to the Holy Spirit who fills us up, who fills us with his gifts that we might spread the kingdom of heaven on earth. Our cisterns can become emptied completely when we begin to think of these gifts as our own, forgetting from whom we originally received, as St. Paul again reminds us in 1 Cor 4:7, slightly before the earlier passage I cited, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”

So when we forget who it is that fills our cisterns, we forget to ask for it to be filled, and we enter into a bit of a slump, and we feel like Jeremiah who “sank into the mud”(Jer 38:6) after being tossed down into the empty cistern. In this context, the act of sinking into the mud means that we settle for mediocrity, we get used to feeling useless and try so many worldly things to ‘fill the void’ but all it ends up accomplishing is numbing the pain. The answer goes back to my previous post about our daily bread. We need to be audacious enough to ask the Lord to give us whatever it is that we need, big or small, but I personally don’t ask big enough, because God has always gone beyond what it is that I ask for, like with the Israelites in the desert who just wanted a little bit of meat for a change and had quail coming out of their ears!

We always underask in our prayers, so be daring, BOLD! and never stop giving the gifts you’ve been given by the Spirit, because that is what they were meant for, even if you are fully emptied and feel awful, it is good to be empty sometimes to remember how much you need the Lord.

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