top of page

I Go to the Water

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 13th of Sixth Month, 2021

Speaker: Janine Saxton

Scripture: John 4:3-15 & John 7:37-39, NRSV

3-15: he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

37-39: On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Good morning friends,

I live in Oregon now, but was fortunate enough to share in the life and ministry of West Richmond Friends between 2012 and 2018. Most of you who attended during that time will remember my requests for prayer every summer as I headed west to backpack a new section of the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail stretches from the Mexico border in California to the Canada border in Washington. The word crest in the name is significant—in 2600 miles it climbs over 57 major mountain passes. It also dips into 19 major canyons and ambles past more than 1,000 lakes and tarns. It traverses five national monuments, six national parks, 25 national forests and 48 national wilderness areas. Those who hike the entire trail in one season are called through-hikers. That’s not me! I just try to hike a new section of it every year.

Besides the obvious escape from busyness and noise to the tranquility of the wilderness, what I love most about backpacking is the intentional whittling away of excess. If everything I really need can be carried in a bag on my back (that’s a statement I’ve been known to make), how necessary is all the rest? I’ve begun to understand that everything I own in life weighs me down—I carry it all, in one way or another.

Actually, I’ve come to realize there are some things I can’t carry on my back, that I absolutely need. I can’t carry community; and I can only carry enough water for a day or two.

For most trips I’ve been able to convince one adventurous friend or another to accompany me, but not always. Twice I’ve headed out alone, completely dependent on God’s provision. I have dozens of stories about the creative ways in which God has met my every need for community—from strangers who have kept me safe when crossing big waters to those who have instructed me, shared equipment with me or otherwise befriended me.

But the fact that I can’t carry all my water for the trip is a central concern. I need to encounter water all along the way, to drink and to rehydrate my food. If there will not be water, I have to carry it—a minimum of about 5 liters a day—or 10 lbs.

When I started backpacking in 1970, I was 11. My family always hiked where there was abundant water. We drank at springs, hopped rock to rock across creeks, balanced on fallen logs to cross rivers and lunched by waterfalls. We swam in lakes and jumped over rivulets of glacier melt. If we camped above tree line, far above any running water, there was still plenty of snow to melt.

But not all sections of the Pacific Crest Trail have abundant or year-round water, and I’m hiking different segments every year. One time, while hiking through a burned area with no protection against the relentless sun, I ran out—still hours from the next water source. A mile or so farther along, a woman hiking alone in the opposite direction stopped to chat with me. She was out for a day hike and offered to give me what was left of her water. I argued—she still had 3 miles to go to reach her car. But she argued back, and in the end I did accept half of her water. I wonder if she was familiar with Matthew chapter 25, and Jesus’ words, Whatever you do for the least of these sisters of mine, you do for me. Did she know she was giving also to Jesus?

A couple of summers ago my hike had two stretches of 25 miles without water. I can’t hike that far in one day, so I knew a couple of mornings I’d have to start out with 12 to 14 pounds of water. Oh, it is possible to carry less—I could hike a side trail 4-5 miles to a lake, or drop my pack and scramble down the mountainside a couple of miles to get water at a spring—those options are on the maps for emergencies—but I’m never really looking to add more mileage.

Occasionally, there are WATER CACHES in the longest dry sections, big jugs of water that have been brought in by generous folks concerned for the welfare of hikers. These people are affectionately known as Trail Angels. Water caches become places of relief and conversation for through-hikers in need of community as well as water. But to depend on a water cache is risky; sometimes you arrive to find the jugs empty.

These arid sections of the PCT are not my favorites. I want water for more than just my physical sustenance. I want to balance on a rock and wash off the dust and sweat in the middle of a singing creek, and to drift into sleep to the background rumble of a river. I want to watch tadpoles wriggle among the shallows and I want to skip stones at a lake. I want to feel the thundering power in a waterfall and walk barefoot through the dew-drenched meadows. Water is so much more than something to drink— it is part of the experience of life on the trail.

Because it can be experienced, and because it’s so central to all of life, water is a perfect metaphor for the Spirit. In the first passage Marjorie read, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well he could give her Living Water, if she asked him. Water she could drink and never again be thirsty. Water that would become in her a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.

Isn’t it just like our dear Jesus to go out of his way to minister to a nobody—as far as the Jews were concerned—a Samaritan, a woman, and someone who undoubtedly had a bad reputation among her own people—based on the number of men in her life and the fact that she was drawing water from the well alone.