I once went to a youth group meeting in a parish, to get to know the youth and share in some of the activities. When I arrived, we broke into groups and each group got some printout sheets about a particular saint. We were also given a poster board and some markers to make some visuals to help us give a short presentation to the group about the saint. I like doing group activities like that, so it was good to join in.
When we got the sheet, I noticed that it was about 2 double-sided pages of 10 bullet points about the saint. Devoid of any cohesive background information about the saint, each point was some conclusion and lesson that (according to the author) we were supposed to take away from the saint’s life, followed by a paragraph or two description of what the saint apparently shows us about the moral life we are supposed to live, especially focused on penance and devotion. Anyway, we had about 15 minutes to digest all of this, plan a presentation, and create the visual.
Do you know what I call that approach to education and formation? I call that the firehose approach. I remember as kids we used to use something like the firehose approach as a joke. You would share the hose you were drinking from with someone else, and when they leaned in to get a drink, you would subtly move your thumb over the opening and, voila, water would jet out all over your friend’s face. Just imagine that being a firehose instead of a garden hose. That is the firehose approach. You jet out a whole ton of information with moral obligations to someone who is just looking for a simple drink of water. It’s not a pleasant experience.
The saint we had was Bernadette Soubirous, who is the famous visionary from Lourdes. After I shared a couple of simple aspects of her story, one of the youth was really piqued by something that happened to her.
You are now at Lourdes because you’ve heard about this teenage girl who is supposedly seeing the Virgin Mary. There she is, in the town dump near all the garbage, supposedly communicating with her, when all of a sudden, this teenager walks over to a barren spot on the ground – in the dump – and starts digging. And digging. And you’re wondering what in the world she is doing, until after a bit she starts to put her face into the ground. She’s cupping her hands and pulling out what now looks to be mud, and it is smeared all over her face. At this point, people around you are confused and thinking she must have lost her mind. You are thinking the same thing. She keeps going at this humiliating experience until, finally, there is a bit of a puddle of water trickling around.
What you don’t know is that the woman has pointing to the barren ground and told her to go and get a drink of water there. Even though there is absolutely no sign that there is any form of water there, Bernadette starts digging, and digging, until some water starts to show, making bits of mud. She tries to drink it, and then keeps on digging to unearth more water, until finally the puddle is formed.
She is completely humiliated, with a face covered with mud. In the middle of the town dump.
What you may not know, is that the town dump is now the Shrine of Lourdes. It is the most famous healing shrine in the world and one of the most visited pilgrim sites on the planet. Today, that puddle is now a large pool, to which millions of people travel every year to actually step into for miraculous healing. Have you heard of Lourdes water? The holy healing water that is all around the world that is trusted as healing water for miracles? That comes from that very spot in the ground that Bernadette dug up. Look what it turned into.
When we come really thirsty to God, He doesn’t set before us an overload of religious information or devotions or obligations or lessons. He doesn’t send us to a cathedral or fancy church or devotional book or video series, rich with Catholicism. He doesn’t turn on the firehose.
God is going to point to a barren spot already in our lives, and say, “Dig and drink.” He’s going to indicate some dry, dumpy, humiliating area of our lives where it looks like nothing good is going on, and say, here you go. Don’t be discouraged if it’s not a blazing firehose, religious and devotional. No, God is looking for our trust in Him.
And keep digging.
And see what it turns into.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the desert a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the desert the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together;
that men may see and know, may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:17-20)