A fixture at every summer’s camp meeting was old Bill, the town drunk. He spent most of the year in life’s gutters, but when the tent meeting came to town, he was the first to show up. Everybody knew that when the altar call came, Bill would be the first one down the aisle, raising his hands toward heaven and shouting, “Lord fill me! Fill me with your Spirit!”
For a little while, bolstered by a new sobriety, he would be a different man. No longer did he shuffle and stagger. He would walk with a new confidence, head held high, more of the man he used to be.
Then, as summer turned to fall, something happened, and everybody knew it would happen. Gone was the confidence, back came the stagger, and Bill would be back off the wagon. It was an all-too-familiar pattern, repeated every year.
One summer, when the tent had been erected and the sawdust spread, Bill showed up for his annual stab at a better life. The preacher preached up a storm, and then came the call. Sure enough, Bill was the first one down front. Turning his eyes to heaven, he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Lord, fill me! Fill me with your Spirit!”
Only this summer, there was heard a small voice from the back of the crowd, murmuring, “Don’t bother, Lord — he leaks!”
I love that story, because it contains a lesson about our lives. The fact is that we leak. I know that from my own experience, my own spiritual journey. How many mountaintop experiences have I had, when my soul was filled with the presence of God — when I was convinced that this feeling of exhilaration would never leave me? How many times have I gone to the mountaintops of inspiration, only to trudge down the mountain when it was all over, to return to routine and ordinary life?
I suppose that’s why we need a community of those who support us on the journey, who help carry the daily provisions that sustain us and refill our sagging spirits. Over the years I have learned that the landscape of faith is not all mountaintops. There are occasional valleys, and the broad plains that know neither highs nor lows. I’ve learned that the most challenging part of the journey is found in the ordinary days, and that it’s the friends who know me and love me anyway who help replenish my supply of Spirit.
I can’t help but wonder what might have come of Bill if his fellow townspeople had done something more than laugh at the sheer predictability of his fate. What might have happened if someone had really believed that he could change?
Sure, Bill leaked. But don’t we all?
That’s why we need each other.