Come to the Water

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money,  come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Isaiah 55:1-2

In the fall of 1980 I walked into an independent Christian bookstore in downtown Athens. Logos was unusual in that it was truly Christian and truly diverse. Among the many treasures I found there was the music of the Saint Louis Jesuits. I bought all their albums.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that their music was – and is – quite controversial among my Catholic brothers and sisters, especially with regard to its use in the liturgy. See, for example, this discussion at Musica Sacra.

But while many Catholics experience their music “as ‘fluff’ and ‘white bread’ and much worse” (and as a deviation from the received Catholic liturgy), my experience was the exact opposite. To me, it was wonderfuL. Its beauty often brought me to tears. At that point, I didn’t know anything of the traditional liturgy of the church or its centrality to the Christian life. Since then, I’ve learned to chant Psalms and sing the Sanctus and do all sorts of wonderful things. Back then, I simply experienced the music as more contemplative and Biblical than anything Protestants had produced in decades, if not centuries. The music sustained me through a lonely point in my life and shifted the direction in my Christian walk.

Some of their music seems dated today, but some still moves me.  Among the songs that still hold up, I think, is John Foley’s “Come to the Water” based on Isaiah 55:1-2.

O let all who thirst, let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord:
without money, without price. Why should you pay the price, except for the Lord?

And let all who seek, let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord:
without money, without strife. Why should you spend your life, except for the Lord?

And let all who toil, let them come to the water.
And let all who are weary, let them come to the Lord:
all who labor, without rest. How can your soul find rest, except for the Lord?

And let all the poor, let them come to the water,
Bring the ones who are laden, bring them all to the Lord:
bring the children without might. Easy the load and light: come to the Lord.

You can listen a recording of this beautiful song here.

Over time, I’ve come to see Isaiah’s words, not as an abstract symbol, but as a concrete reality in the life of the church. God has given us the gift of baptism; those who are plunged beneath its waters need never thirst. He has given us wine and bread at his table to nourish our souls. Come to the waters. Come to the table. Come to the Lord.