As the Deer
In my flat it gushes instantly, clean and clear from multiple taps (and rises in the walls, and drips through the ceiling, but that’s another story!).
In Morocco, where I was on holiday last week, it was a different story. Most of the landscapes we drove through were utterly barren, punctuated at intervals by lush, green oases, whose nourishing water had been coaxed for miles through rocky, dusty terrain. These pockets of abundant life were as refreshing to the tourist’s eye as they must have been to the parched traveller’s throat.
In Morocco in August moisture has a way of simply disappearing from the body. We spent an afternoon and a night on the edge of the Sahara (I know, mad dogs and Englishmen…!), and though we had drunk gallons of bottled water throughout the day, an hour or two simply sitting and watching the sun set over the sand dunes was enough to leave us gasping for more - and instantly tired and irritable when it was slow to appear.
It’s that helpless desperation which has always come to mind when I’ve read Psalm 42, or sung the song based on it: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
I’ve pictured the deer desperately thirsty but unable to access the water it needs. Consequently, I’ve understood the psalmist to be saying that his experience of God, at least in this moment, is of someone distant, concealed, elusive; someone longed for but unattainable.
Yet someone I met on the holiday gave me a fresh insight. Years ago, when she was travelling in Chad, she learned that when the local tribespeople crossed the desert, they would always take a deer with them. Why? Because when they were dry and desperate they would release the deer and it would lead them to water.
I don’t know how, but the deer knew where the water was. It could guide them unerringly to the source of refreshment, nourishment and life.
Doesn’t that change the sense of that verse? The deer isn’t a helpless creature doomed to die in the desert unless the Lord deigns to hear it and divert a stream to its vicinity. It longs for water, and knows exactly how to get it.
So just as the deer pants for water and finds it, so my soul longs for God and finds him. I’m not left abandoned in the wasteland hoping he’ll show up before it’s too late, but I know exactly where to go to replenish my soul when it gets dry and thirsty.
I know how to get to the oasis. God is longed-for but accessible; perhaps momentarily concealed, but ready to be found. As Jesus promised, I need never, never thirst again.