I will become in them a spring of water.
From John 4:5-42
Springs can appear in unlikely places. Last summer I climbed Mt. St. Helens with friends. The mountain is a desolate gray landscape of volcanic ash and large boulders. Yet in the midst of this lifeless land, I discovered a spring of water and the flowing creek it formed.
In Tacoma, the majority of our water supply is pumped from productive aquifers that stretch from north of the Nalley Valley all the way to Lakewood. Wells that access these aquifers can pump 55 million gallons per day! It may surprise many of us that this abundance comes from a rich and renewable resource that is invisible, yet right beneath us.
Jacob’s well is an unlikely place for this encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. It is surprising that Jesus is in Samaria at all, given the history of animosity between Jews and Samaritans. And we would not have expected a Jew to speak to a Samaritan, nor a man to speak to a woman.
Much is often assumed about the marital and sexual history of the Samaritan woman. But as Gail O’Day writes, “…nothing in the tone of these verses conveys that Jesus judges the woman and her history. The tone of judgment belongs to centuries of commentators, not to Jesus.” So let us begin by noting that while the Samaritan woman’s interaction with Jesus is surprising, it is not because she is an unworthy conversation partner to Jesus.
It turns out that both Jesus and the Samaritan woman are thirsty, and both long to be fully known. Jesus asks for water, and in Jesus’ attentiveness the Samaritan woman senses an invitation to explore her soul’s deepest longings.
The poet John Fox writes:
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
Jesus listens deeply. In this unlikely place he reveals himself to be the source of water that will satisfy the Samaritan woman’s thirsting spirit even in the most desolate of landscapes. In one of the longest dialogues in this Gospel, the Samaritan woman becomes ever more herself: intelligent, uninhibited, courageous, and one of the first evangelists.
I marvel at the generative, life-giving beauty of Jesus’ attention and love. It is a beauty that nourishes the Samaritan woman’s spirit. Jesus’ presence invites her to become who she is, which is to say, to become more fully human. As she leaves her water jar and returns to her village, she continues to question, discern, and attend to the beauty that is flowing in and through her.
Springs of living water can appear in unlikely places – places where our family or culture may tell us we should not go. In my life, springs sometimes appear when I initiate a difficult conversation and I experience unexpected grace. There are occasions that I discover a spring when my back is against the wall and I am finally honest about a poor choice I’ve made. In other moments I notice a spring of living water when someone discounts my voice and I find the courage to stand up for myself.
God meets us in unlikely places and nourishes us with springs of living water. In these unexpected encounters, God’s grace flows freely and we learn that fear does not have the last word. These are the spaces that invite us to discover what Howard Thurman calls “the sound of the genuine” in ourselves. God’s beauty nourishes us through the discovery of our own giftedness, and invites us to grow and learn and become God’s people in the world.
Dwelling Among Us
Is there a word or phrase that stands out to you? What is it calling forth?
How do you react to the image of heavenly childbirth? What experiences inform your reaction?
Go for a walk in your neighborhood, or sit at a window for a time. As you take in your surroundings, look intently upon every person, every creature as a babe born of God, a heaven-sent sibling. Sense your deep connection to the whole world that God so loves.