Come and drink of living water
This reflection is based on John 4:5-42 and tells a story of my own experience with this passage.
The story begins with Jesus hot and thirsty…again…In the temptation story we see Jesus hungry and thirsty as well. Here, he is stopped by a well and waiting for someone to come and pull water from the well for him. When the woman approaches he asks her for water and she questions his propriety in even speaking to her. He responds to her question by offering her living water. What a wonderful image this is. We might think about the elixir of life…One drink of this water and you will never die.
Those of you who read last week’s post may remember that I wrote about the word eternal which may also mean a long life. So here Jesus may be referring to not a life that lasts forever but life that is long and full.
In considering this passage, we need to remember that it was written, approximately 50-60 years after Jesus’ death and is not intended to tell a factual story. The author is trying to help the community understand who Jesus is for them. Many biblical scholars agree that the words we hear in this passage, and in much of John, are not attributable to Jesus himself. That doesn’t make them any less true but it does put their context in a different light. The words attributed to Jesus speak to what it is that he can do for people who are willing to risk trusting his presence in their lives.
In his conversation with the woman in this story, Jesus identifies that she has had several husbands and that she is currently living with a man she is not married to. We aren’t told anything about their relationship but we can make some assumptions and leap to some judgements. As an unmarried woman, living with a man her virtue would certainly be questioned. She would not have been accepted within the community and her status would be low. And yet this is the person that Jesus spoke to, made a request of and offered the gift of living water. She is the one that returned to a community that did not welcome her, told them what she had experienced and through her the community came to recognize Jesus as Messiah. With that, her status in the community would increase and she would no longer be an outcast. Simply by sending her to fetch the community, Jesus gives her living water: the ability to be a useful and valuable member of the community. The living water that Jesus gives changes from person to person.
I want to tell you a story of living water in my own life and share an experience I had of this scripture. A number of years ago I was on a silent retreat. Through the retreat there was a spiritual director who was helping to guide me and make suggestions about how I might engage more deeply with the Holy.
She suggested that I read this passage several times and after I had read it several times to imagine myself into the story. So I imagined myself into the story and became the woman at the well. Jesus approached me and asked me for water. I backed away in fear. He asked me what I was afraid of. I didn’t want to respond. I wouldn’t look at him and I wouldn’t respond. He eventually coaxed from me that I was afraid of other people: I was afraid of what they might think of me and how they might respond to me. He promised that he wouldn’t hurt me and held out his hand to me.
I have two beings that I carry around, that, for lack of a better description, might be described as spirit guides. I call these two the wise ones and sometimes they pop into my mind in situations where I am uncertain about something. As Jesus was promising not to hurt me and I was cowering in fear, the wise ones appeared and coaxed me to risk reaching out to him. As I touched his hand, water began to flow from the well and became a stream. The stream bubbled up and I could see Jesus and the wise ones in the middle of the stream. They were dancing and laughing. The water glistened on them and I realized that they were tossing something into the air that looked a lot like bubbles. The bubbles floated in the air, bounced in the water, some popped, some floated away. These bubbles were all my fear and insecurity. What had been a heavy weight became a gift, something beautiful, something playful. I could physically feel the weight lifting off me. This was my gift of living water.
All of us carry things that we would like to change about ourselves or regrets about our lives—things we wish could be different. One of the ways we can shift our spiritual and emotional energy and tap into the living water that Jesus offers us is through spiritual practice.
Spiritual practices are various forms of prayer. There are the prayers we are used to that use spoken words or thoughts. Spiritual practice may be written word such as journaling or poetry. It may be art or music. Movement such as yoga or dance or walking a labyrinth can be spiritual practice. There are some traditional forms within the Christian tradition such as Lectio Divina which involves reading the same scripture three times, each time with a different question to draw you deeper into it. There are multiple ways to engage spiritual practices. A spiritual practice is anything that we do that intentionally connects us with the holy and opens us to God’s spirit moving within us. Part of the key to spiritual practice is to listen for how God is speaking to you. It is sometimes much easier for us to talk but we forget to be quiet and listen. I want to encourage all of us to engage in regular spiritual practice.
The living water that Jesus offers in this passage changed the way in which the woman at the well was perceived by her community. It also changed her self-perception and her ability to see herself as loved and valued by God and by the messiah. Spiritual practice grounds us in God’s love for us. It renews us, refreshes us and allows us to be nourished by the water and bread that Jesus provides—the streams of life giving water and the bread of life.