“Thirst is the craving for fluids, resulting in the basic instinct to drink.”
In the Orphic theogonies Water together with Creation and Mud were the first things to emerge at the dawn of creation. This ‘trinity’ of elements is amazingly revealing in terms of the origins of humankind. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water and every living cell needs this chemical substance to keep functioning. We can survive for up to three weeks without food but die within days without water. What connects us even more than Poetics, or Music, or Art, or the collective amazement before any astounding marvel of human achievement, is water. And then there is thirst. At some point when we are starved of water, thirst will become more vital and desiring than all else. Thirst like blood which flows in our bodies is oblivious to creed, colour, or rank. “Of hunger and thirst, thirst is the greater imperative.” (Yann Martell, Life of Pi)
The most religious will thirst similarly to the most irreligious. The colour of our skin will not save us or deliver us from thirst. The greatest general will thirst in equal degrees to his lowliest foot soldier and he too would beg for water. There are some extraordinary exceptions, but these are unique and rare. Thirst like death makes us totally vulnerable. What is more in the account of Christ’s crucifixion in the gospels we find the incredible exclamation from the GodMan himself, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28 cf. Ps 69:21). The line which might run through biology and metaphysics and the understated difference between surviving and living becomes increasingly blurred during extreme times of mental and physical distress. Thirst is the great equaliser. It chastens and brings us to our knees in a hurry. With unrequited thirst there are no grey areas.
We can survive without our great poets and musicians and artists. But we cannot live without water. So when tempted to boast of our physical attributes or to flaunt our material successes, let us reflect on our grim condition three days from now without water. We first must quench our thirst and then afterwards we can create and build, but without water we can do nothing. Unsurprisingly, the first thing which the unfortunate figure dives from the well-known parable of “the rich man and Lazarus” asks is for a drop of water that he might “cool his tongue” (Lk 16:19-31). It was his thirst that he first sought to quench before all else, even before the warning to his closest kin of his horrible predicament. When we thirst the only thing which matters is water. If the powerful or godless have nothing else to contemplate upon, if memory of death is not enough, then let it be thirst, the need for water. Thirst humbles us. It brings us nearer to the soil. To the mud.
Thirst is a dominant metaphor in religious writings and is directly linked to the seeking after the divine, and of wisdom, and knowledge. In the Judaeo-Christian scriptures thirst amongst other things, such as the pursuit of righteousness symbolises the seeking after the living God and eternal life (Ps 63:1; Jn 4:14). In Islam where water is the source of all creation the Quran quenches the thirst for knowledge. In Buddhism spiritual thirst is quenched by the water of the Buddha’s teachings. In Hinduism where all water is held to be sacred there is the unquenchable thirst for the unknown. In Zoroastrianism the Supreme Being Ahuramazda creates water to defeat the demon of thirst. In many indigenous cultures water must not be polluted and all living beings must be relieved of their thirst.
Postscript: In this too robots will be ‘superior’ to us, not necessarily for their artificial intelligence, but for the fact they will not need water. Robots [or the biomechatronic organisms of the future] will not thirst. This alone will point to their inhumanity.
“Our dear God thank you for the blessing of water in our home, please do remind us daily that thirst connects us intimately to every other human being and that we should reflect upon this reality as we do upon our death, we pray too for all our brothers and sisters who at this very moment thirst and are without clean water.”