Give me of that life-giving water

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Give me of that life-giving water
Going on a pilgrimage with Elisabeth Gruyters
Pierre Humblet

Give me of that life-giving water
Going on a pilgrimage with Elisabeth Gruyters

Pierre Humblet    2011Published

CB Spirituality: a life-giving pilgrimage

At the start of the Congregation’s  jubilee year, which is this year,  we have her Foundress take us along on a journey through her spirituality. With her spirituality we mean both, the spirituality of Mother Elisabeth and the spirituality of the Congregation.

Here, I speak of taking along on a journey, as it is by no means my intention to start describing this spirituality or to sum up key elements and outlines. For, then, we could stay outsiders in this story of hers. No, what we will do is travel along with Elisabeth Gruyters on her pilgrimage.

The very words “with Elisabeth Gruyters” are a first entry. For, they mirror how she went her own way uniting herself with all those who were her role model.   Characteristic of how she wrote about her fundamental attitude of praying is the use of the word ‘with’. The following quotations are examples of this:

“I then cried out with the great Apostle:  ‘Who shall separate me from the love of God?’ ...” (EG 106)
“But then I raised my eyes to Heaven, and with the disciples at sea I called to God with folded hands: Lord, Lord, save me, lest I should perish.” (EG 101) [1]

Mother Elisabeth meditated on the Scripture texts to which she refers here, she entered them in depth and while praying united herself with Paul and with the frightened disciples on the lake. She accompanied them, thus becoming a companion on their religious journey.  This way of uniting oneself is not restricted to her encounter in prayer with biblical figures. It also fundamentally characterizes her apostolic attitude.  There too, we see that she truly became part of the story of the people with whom she got involved.  Once she had put her heart into it, she could not free herself from it.
“For when I had some spare time on Sundays, I went to those poor people of Calvarieberg to say the rosary. On my way home and while working I saw those people again before my eyes and they occupied my mind. Then amidst many tears, I sent my prayers up to Heaven that I would be allowed to perform my works of Charity for those miserable people at Calvarieberg...”(EG 113)
It is in this deep seated feeling of commitment that she learnt to understand her vocation and that of the Congregation as she told us:
“As far as I am concerned, I had heard that voice in my heart when I was still in the world, possibly ten or twelve years ago, when up to then nobody ever had thought of this.” (EG 113)

The path of prayer and apostolate along which she travelled was marked by a deeply lived spiritual relationship and, in that sense, a pilgrimage: a journey which ultimate goal was not its end point but the formative and transformative working of going the way. Mother Elisabeth’s spirituality therefore never was a fixed and finished factor. She always, even to the last second of her life, journeyed along with her beloved Lover.

Life-giving water

Starting point for this article are the words of EG 140 in which Mother Elisabeth describes her spiritual path of life in a nutshell. She describes its present stage as ’the dark night’. She looks back on the time spaces in which she was richly endowed with mystical experiences and calls them her ‘honeymoon weeks’. However, she also tells how she copes with ‘her Jesus’, her Gentle Lover here and now. She writes:

“For I prefer from time to time to be with my dear, tired Jesus at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman and I often say to Him: ‘Lord, I am thirsty, give me that life-giving water’. But alas I have had my honeymoon. Now I roam about in the dark night, yet in bold courage, and on the word of my spiritual Leader, I throw out the net every day.
May the Name of the Lord be blessed for all eternity, Amen.” (EG 140)

As if all by itself our eyes go in the direction of the words of prayer to Jesus the way she formulates them here: “Lord, I am thirsty, give me that life-giving water.”  The title/header of this article is derived from this for good reason.  Yet, the preceding lines may even be of more significance to her spirituality and to the spirituality of the Congregation. Namely the sentence: “For I prefer from time to time to be with my dear tired Jesus at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman.”

Preparatory to her words of prayer, preparatory to what she asks Him she expresses her need for His closeness. The experience of His intimate presence characterized most her life. What we wrote about unity in the previous paragraph is the starting point of this text.

With the words “my dear, tired Jesus” she shows that she has really taken in the Gospel text according to St John, for there it actually says:  “Jesus tired out by the journey...” (John 4, 6). Apparently His constitution had impressed her. And by also using the word ‘with’ here, Elisabeth unifies herself with the role of the Samaritan woman: “with the Samaritan woman.”  It is from out of this position that she asks the key question which, in the Gospel of St John, Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Lord, I am thirsty, give me of that life-giving water.”

But stronger than the Samaritan woman, Elisabeth tries to get closer to Him. She sits down with Him at the edge of the well and in whatever else she says her passionate affection for Him can be heard: ‘my’ and ‘dear’ Jesus. The story at Jacob’s well becomes her own story with Him.

For her, journeying along with Him came first also where her fellow sisters were concerned. For, the text of EG 140 does not stand on its own. It forms the closing of a passage which also comprises EG 138 – 139. It is about the possibility for the sisters to celebrate the Eucharist, to go to confession and to, each month, receive a heart-stirring instruction encouraging us to spiritual progress (EG 139). At the end she describes several times how grateful she is for that:

“... a blessing for which we can only be very grateful to the All-Good God. Oh no, this blessing and the grace contained in it cannot be put on paper. (...) with thankful hearts for this great spiritual happiness. And as for me, I am more interested in this than in all the riches of whole Maastricht.” (EG 139)

The spiritual growth of her fellow sisters is very dear to her and it is precisely against this background that, afterwards, she writes in EG 140 about her own spiritual path of life. She doesn’ t want to just tell us something about herself.  No, she really wants to share her personal experience in order to put some extra emphasis on the fact that she does not begrudge others what she hopes to get for herself. The word “for” with which she starts EG 140, unites both sides: her concern for the growth of her sisters and her own desire for growth in unity with Christ.

Becoming a source of life-giving water

Over the past forty years the spirituality of the Congregation more and more discovered its own identity. This did not happen because her character changed, but because she gradually started to recognize her own features in the spirituality of her Foundress, Elisabeth Gruyters. She left us her memoirs of how she personally experienced her calling, her religious path of life and the foundation of the Congregation. Through this booklet she has become our source of life-giving water. It is in this way that she, too, wants to enter our story and unite herself with us.

Being a CB-sister in the spirituality of Mother Elisabeth is a challenge for us. We, too, journey along with Him and on this pilgrimage she can guide us by showing us ways to sources of life-giving water. With all this it is not about imitating her, it rather is about experiencing our own relationship to God and neighbour in such a way that we ourselves, our communities, and the Congregation as a whole, more and more become a source of life-giving water.

The strength of the spirituality of Elisabeth Gruyters lies in the fact that she doesn’t tell and dictate us what that is, but that she actually shows its fundamental attitude.  She shows us a way of journeying with Christ and with faith tradition. It is this which gives CB-spirituality its gratifying openness. It has not been recorded in a number of statements or dogmatic texts but presents itself to us as an ongoing religious path of life.  CB-spirituality is not just ‘something’, it is ‘something that happens to you’. It teaches us how we can draw water from the well and thus become a source ourselves.

The path Mother Elisabeth shows us is one that can adapt itself to each one of us and to every phase of life. For, also her own companionship with her Gentle Lover and His relationship with her was not constantly the same.  However, what was constant was the fact that she put Him central in her life as the One Who had made her into a sister of Charity. In the tradition of this Congregation this does not, in first instance, mean ‘being someone who dedicates herself to charitable works’, but ‘being a woman imbued with His Love’.

This Love comes from Him and is nourished by our relationship with Him. In this and because of this it is possible to be sisters of Charity, for Him, for one another and for our neighbour. The prayer of EG 39 expresses this process of growth in mutual love. Starting from Him, being her and our Lover (line 1), it is via the words “Love’s burning flame in me release “ (line 3) that Elisabeth Gruyters  arrives at the line “that to Your service You make me capable” (line 4). This service to Him sort of automatically flows over into servitude to fellowmen and to their religious path of life, as expressed in the word “salvation” (line 6).  They are taken along in this movement:

O Gentle Lover of my heart,
in Your suffering give me part.
Love’s burning flame in me release
that to Your service You make me capable.
Not just for my own profit,
But also for my Neighbour’s salvation.[2] EG 39

The result of our own pilgrimage is that our neighbours can become fellow travellers for us. With all this it doesn’t make much of a difference which apostolate we actually fulfil and with whom we associate.  Essential is that we are connected with Him in such a way that, in our turn, we can become a source to others.

Is it possible? Can we, as religious and as a Congregation, become a source of life-giving water, the way Mother Elisabeth has become our source?

Questions for Reflection

  1. Reviewing your own religious pilgrimage path, can you point out a specific moment (or moments) when you yourself discovered Jesus Christ as a travel companion?
  2. You, too, have been invited to not only receive the life-giving water but to actually be and become a source of life-giving water to others. What would be your way that fits your talents and your vocation best to make this possible?

  1. Other examples of this way of speaking can be found also in EG 31, EG 106 and EG 140.
  2. Here I altered the last three lines of the text of the official English version, in an attempt to make a translation that follows the poem of Mother Elisabeth more closely. I presented this alternative version during the General Chapter of the Congregation on July 19, 2011. The official English version reads:

    ... Love's burning flame in me release
    that to the world I servant be;
    in ever growing strength and care,
    until eternal life we share.