A Passionate Thirst

We continue our reflection on the Sunday gospels this Lent with the narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well.

We have much to learn from the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at Jacob’s well, and while her story may sound simple and a bit confusing on our first read, we will find that spending time with her will teach us much about how to be thirsty, and how to be filled with the goodness of the Lord. How to be thirsty? The woman’s thirst for truth and for life that is beyond the physical, ordinary life we all experience is inspiring. We have much to learn from her about spiritual thirst, and about Christ, who is the wellspring, the water of life.

Jesus engages the woman in conversation, and ultimately in conversion, in spite of cultural norms to the contrary. She is a Samaritan, and a woman, and is at the well in the heat of the day, away from the other women who would have drawn their water in the cooler morning hours. Samaritans and Jews kept their distance from one another; Jewish men did not speak to women outside of their family circles; and this woman certainly must have had a reason for avoiding the conversations of other women by drawing water in the heat of the day. But Jesus seeks the woman out. He could have waited silently while she acquired her water, or he could have simply ignored her presence. God often seeks us out, however. We have to be willing to recognize God’s presence and to respond, even when we don’t understand.

Have you ever felt yourself being sought out by God? Do you ever wonder if God is waiting for you to approach, even timidly? How do you respond to such promptings?

I am impressed with the woman’s openness to what Jesus has to offer. Her interactions with Jesus unfold, and each time he says something perplexing, we find the woman responding. She doesn’t go away confused, although she might have been tempted to do so more than once. Instead, she allows herself to be engaged by the Lord, and through her openness to Christ, her life is changed forever.

The woman acknowledges her thirst. Although her first words to Jesus are filled with mocking, she lets him see that she longs for something more than the details of her temporal life. The water Jesus offers is far beyond anything the woman could fathom, and we are given the privilege of observing her as she is filled with the wisdom, strength and truth that come from a growing relationship with Christ.

We don’t know what the circumstances of her life have been, except that Jesus convinces her to trust him by disclosing that he knows she has been married many times. Scripture scholars tell us that this may be a reference to idols the Samaritans worshiped, that the conversation is to be read on more than one level. There are many idols in our lives, aren’t there? The idol of possessions, or of the constant need for activity; the idol of individualism, or of the desire for power or control. Our idols are no less harmful to us than were those of Jesus’ time, and his patient and clear response to this woman is encouraging for us. Trust Christ and the need for idols begins to disappear.

What spiritual thirsts do you discern in your heart? What idols would time with the Lord surface in your life?

A young adult friend is in his last semester of college, and is preparing to make the transition to graduate studies or to his first post-college position. His emails are filled with the wonder and excitement of new beginnings, and of the stress of not knowing what the future holds. He explained recently that it isn’t simply the uncertainty of the practical aspects of life, like what he will do, where he will live, will he have steady income, and so on, that wear on him; his real desire is to embrace a life that keeps God at the center, and he knows that decisions he makes in the next few months will have many consequences spiritually as well as materially. “It is relatively easy to keep my priorities straight right now,” he said. “The bells ring (he is on a Catholic college campus) and I have a reminder of God’s presence. Not only do I remember to set aside time for prayer, but there is prayer in the community four times a day, plus Mass, religious art, heavenly music, and people with whom I can share my spiritual journey. There are always opportunities for mission and for service; all I have to do is sign up or show up. How will I create a structure for my life away from here that will keep God first in all things?”

This young man identified important aspects of spiritual thirst, and the openness for Christ to quench the thirst in profound ways: prayer, community, time for reflection, service to others, and a heart that desires a growing relationship with God.

How do you provide an open space in your heart and your life so that Christ can dwell there with you?

The Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well is willing to hear the truth, even though it is painful, and her conversation with Christ isn’t a one-way experience, either. She voices painful confusion, and Christ’s revelatory response is amazing enough that the woman leaves her earlier purpose behind. Her water jugs sit aside while she goes into the town to share her discovery with others: “Come, see…”

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling stuck in life. We may be trying to follow Christ, but we know there is more, and yet… we go through the days and weeks caught up in the routines of work, family, and community, until something drastic happens that calls us to reflect upon life and its meaning. Sometimes that “stuckness” is the result of not wanting to hear the truth about our lives, for if we really did listen to God’s voice, we fear we would be torn apart. The woman gives us a wonderful image of one who allows God’s truth to sink deeply into her being, and finds peace and life worth sharing rather than the devastation we might expect in such circumstances. We realize in her story the truth in the phrase, “the truth will set you free,” and we begin to contemplate what impact a real encounter with Jesus might have on our lives.

What do you most desire from Christ? How will you find a way to allow Christ to provide what you need?

Can you imagine the surprise of the townspeople when this woman, one who must have been on the fringes of their lives (remember, she had been drawing water at noon, avoiding the others in the daily comings and goings of the village) suddenly approaches them with astounding news? What if she is right? Has she lost her senses, or has she experienced something, someone, compelling? This woman’s friendship with Christ calls her out beyond herself. She has fallen in love with God, and she cannot help but share that love with others, regardless of their perplexed looks and sideways glances.

In her sharing, a wonderful cycle is begun. Her invitation to others results in their invitation to Jesus to stay with them; their invitation results in new relationships with Christ. The overflowing stream of living water, love beyond all measure, washes and sustains and quenches the most passionate thirst.

Have you fallen in love with God? How do you share your love for God with others? How is your passionate thirst quenched by the living water who is Christ?

 

Transfiguration

In my excitement about the developments at Catholic Life and Faith, I neglected to post this week's reflection on the Sunday Gospel. Here it is!

“Lord, it is good to be here…”

Sometimes, we need to go up on a mountain – if not literally, then figuratively, in our mind’s eye.  We walk away from all that is comfortable, secure, and ordinary. We walk away from daily pressures and worries. We walk toward a place that can provide perspective, and pause.

If done with purpose, approaching the mountain can lead us to look at our lives differently – we may find a way that is brilliantly clear, a way of holiness.

One time when my husband and I were vacationing in Colorado, we climbed fairly high up in the mountains, planning to spend the day and so not feeling concerned about how far we were traveling. We ate a picnic lunch at a clearing about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, and then, as the afternoon hours approached, so did a thunderstorm.

We could see it building in the distance, and at first thought maybe we should begin our descent.  We were soon to realize, though, that the storm was actually below us, and that it was better for us to remain where we were.

 

Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain alone. We are told in other gospel narratives that Jesus went to the mountains to pray. Jesus understood the need to move away from others for times of prayer and reflection.

What perspective might you gain from some time alone, for prayer and reflection?              

We watched as the storm approached the village below. We could see the headlights of cars, cutting the darkness of the approaching clouds. Occasionally, we would watch lightening and hear the thunder, the sound seeming incongruous with the image from our “vantage point” above the action. Suddenly, one bolt of lightening stretched from above us and severed a hole in the roof of the Catholic church in the town below.  Oddly separated from what was taking place in the distance, we watched as fire trucks rushed to the scene, struggling to control the fire that was overtaking the frame structure.

We were filled with awe at the incredible power of this creation of the Lord, feeling tiny and wondering at our own place in God’s heart.  Our lives with God came more clearly into perspective as we watched in silence. Protected from the storm and still aware of its power, we recognized our total dependence upon God, and through our vulnerability, we understood God’s love in a new and profound way.

 

In the account of Jesus and the disciples on the mountain, we notice that Jesus does not leave the disciples alone. They become fearful when they hear the voice of God calling to them. Jesus reassures them through his words and his presence with them.

Have you ever felt fearful of allowing God to change your heart? How do you recognize Christ’s presence with you, and allow that reassuring presence to strengthen you when you are afraid?

 Jesus took three disciples up to a high mountain, from which they would envision the world differently.  They are given a brief view of a world to come. It is on a mountain that Moses heard God speak – where he received the law that structures and guides his people’s (our) behavior toward one another. It is on a mountain that Elijah hears the whispering, still voice of God and is filled with certainty as to God’s purpose for him and God’s chosen ones. Now it is on a mountain that Jesus takes Peter and James and John, and where he speaks again with Moses and Elijah – this time face to face.  The disciples see the prophets, and realize that Jesus is fulfilling that for which the prophets prepared their people.

We hear God’s voice proclaiming Jesus as God’s beloved – God’s chosen. Through Christ, we too are God’s beloved, and yet, we often find ourselves doubting, wondering, struggling to believe. We experience uncertainty in the face of situations in our lives, and we find life confusing. “God, you gave the disciples an image of glory and radiant life. I sure could use some sort of sign like that right now,” we think. And yet, how many times do we stop to recognize the blessings, little miracles, unexpected and powerful moments in our lives?

Jesus tells Peter, James and John that they must descend the mountain and face the trials to come. What sorts of trials do you face? Do you do so with the knowledge that Christ is with you, leading you, urging you onward?

In Matthew’s account of this experience, the disciples are instructed not to be afraid. We are told to listen:

 

Listen to the voice that told Moses to take off his shoes, stand on holy ground, receive the way that God will show him – leading the people out of bondage and into freedom…

Listen to the voice that whispered to Elijah – leading him in the sure-footed ways of the Lord, even when surrounded by those who would not hear…

Listen, as we, with Christ, are called God’s beloved, God’s chosen, as our minds and hearts are filled with God’s presence in us, around us, amongst us…

Listen, and watch, as we are given an image of the kingdom that is here and yet not present in fullness, a time and place and state of being when all the just are joined with God – Moses, Elijah, and we who are faithful – all the angels and saints and the generations who have gone before, and those who will go after – all risen and clothed in dazzling white – washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

How is our weekly gathering at Eucharist a vision of a kingdom to be shared and to be anticipated? Does your participation in the Sunday celebration urge you toward a passion for transformation?

 

Do we listen to Jesus, really? Do we listen when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice?” Do we listen? Do we listen when Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and wealth?” Do we listen? Do we listen when he tells us that the hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned are to be cared for as Christ? Do we listen? Yes, at least sometimes, we do listen. And we try, in our own ways, to serve and to care. But we also sometimes put the cotton of indifference in our ears. We hum a tune that will keep us from hearing. We become complacent and we convince ourselves that we need not do more than that with which we are comfortable. That’s when it is time to go back to the mountain, back to a place (physically or spiritually) where we can listen through sacred Scripture and the witness of saintly people through the ages, gain strength and resolve, and return to love and serve the Lord more deeply in our lives. We develop a passion for transformation, our own transformation as Christian disciples, and through our living discipleship, the transformation of our world.

What in your life needs to be transformed by God?