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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Woman at the Well

(c) Alette Stoutenbeek
John4: 3 -29
Written for the “Start Sunday” of my church
dutch version here.

In the room we are going to focus on the story depicted
in this icon: the woman at the well. The icon is painted
by Alette Stoutenbeek, who has been painting icons
for several years now and even teaches it.
There are strict rules for painting icons. One of those
rules is that there's an element it that symbolizes Easter.
In this icon it's the well, which has the shape of a cross.
At first I felt disappointed about it, because I wanted
the well to be the focal point of the meditation.
However as I started to write I discovered that this
just fits in beautifully.

A well is a fantastically fascinating place. It's a place where sadness and joy come together. Like at the cross that signifies the suffering and dying of Christ, while it's also a symbol of his resurrection.
You go looking for a well because you are thirsty. Or maybe you are taking good care of yourself and you want to prevent getting thirsty. And at the bottom of the well is the water that you need to pull through, to carry on.
The well, as seen in this picture, is more than just the water, the headspring. It means others have been therre before you. When the well wasn't there yet, they dug a pit and built the well, making it easier for you to find and reach the water.
Not so long ago I was deeply down in the dumps, or as the dutch would say: sitting in the “put” [ = pit or well ], so a friend told me “Cheer up Jo. I've been there so often. Try to let your path unfold with little steps, don't force it. And keep your eyes open for the beautiful surprises of life” Those words impressed me, especially because I was so thirsty. I repeat them over and over, even now that I'm well out of the well. When my friend was thirsty he had to dig deep for water and built this well. Making it easier for me to drink the water that I so desperately needed.

A meditation about the story of the woman at the well. It's in John 4. Most of us will know the story.
The icon depicts the samaritan woman. Here she's standing. In other paintings she's often kneeling down, her position lower than Christ, whom she runs into as he is sitting at the well. Her low position expresses her modesty, her sense of shame. That she harbours these feelings is obvious from the words in the bible. She's surprised about the fact that Jezus is asking her for water. She's used to people looking down on her and has adopted the sense of shame that her environment thinks 'befitting' her.
Yet there is this beautiful power running through her. She's straight and honest. She points out that she's a samaritan, that she feels uncomfortable about a Jew accepting something to drink from her. And she admits she's not married. She could have said her husband was away on a journey. This woman is a very social person. She gives Jezus what he wants. She doesn't like being alone, so she lives with her 5th partner! Accepting the negative consequences thereof. And finally, at the end of the story, she shares her happiness and the good news with others.
No doubt she'll have her moments of being down caused by all the criticism of her environment and of being critical about herzelf. That is when she's coming down at the well The jug is empty, going down. Good for her that she reaches the water, a full jug is moving up again. Alas, this will only satisfy for a while. Repeatedly her thoughts reach the same point, she's being thirsty again and kneels down at the well.

Today there's a man sitting by the well and he treats her with respect. He's not looking down on her and accepts her gift. Admitted, he had to coax her to give it to him. He knows her . Not her role in her society, or her -lacking- worldly success, but the sensitive, loving woman behind all of that, the woman that she IS. It's God's message: I knew you before you were born. I can see through all those layers and I love what's behind them. That is the person I created.
The woman is receptive to the message. One can see the change coming over her. Instead of needing encouragement to hand out water, she's now being generous by herself. She goes back into her village, where she's sharing the good news with others. She's full of charm now, her magnetism has changed. When she comes back to the well it's not because of thirst. She's guiding others who want to drink from that same water, that will ban thirst forever. Did you notice? She's no longer alone.

The water Jezus spoke of is God's unconditional Love for us. A love that sees right through our social standards to our soul.
God knows as no other that here on earth we are often pushed into a playing a part we didn't choose. Or didn't choose consciously. Which often puts us in a situation that tempts us to act in a way that we're accustomed to call 'sinful' . God is not so narrow minded that he'll let his love for us depend on that. He loves us anyway. Any way. Our part or position are no longer a curse, something to be ashamed of, something that would make you 'unloveable'.
Because of God's unconditional love our place on earth is no more than a challenge to see how far we can get. In learning to live from a deep well of power: Love.

God's second largest command is “love thy neighbour as you love yourself”. Sometimes the focus is misplaced and people make it sound like “love thy neighbour more than yourself” and “be good for your neighbour or else ...” God allows you to love yourself just as much and as unconditional. He wants you you to, because without it you will get depressed and tied down, making you incapable of taking care of your fellow creatures. That is what being 'bound by sin' means and you'll be free from this if you understand those words of Jezus and accept them. Not that you will never commit a sin again... It just means that the act does not make less as a person. You will still be loved inspite of it. Once again: God knows WHO you are, he sees through all thelayers... amd loves you. He's inviting us, through Jezus, to do the same. With our neighbours and ourselves.

Love is patient and kind.
Love knows neither envy nor jealousy.
Love is not forward and self-assertive,
nor boastful and conceited.
She does not behave unbecomingly,
nor seek to aggrandize herself,
nor blaze out in passionate anger,
nor brood over wrongs.
She finds no pleasure in injustice done to others,
but joyfully sides with the truth.  
She knows how to be silent.
She is full of trust, full of hope,
full of patient endurance.

[1 Corinthians 13;4-7]

1) Would you ever go back to the well again if you were convinced beyond doubt that all your difficult moments harbour something good? Like the chance -for you or someone else- to grow spiritually.
Would you ever go back to the well again if you were convinced beyond doubt that God loves you? Whether directly or through someone else on earth, even though your part in life is but a small one?

In other words, would you ever be down again, if you felt loved or had a sense of fulfilment all the time ?

2) Actually... the well is a beautiful spot. Because it's only when we aren't happy, but thirsty, we start searching for our power, recognise it and embrace it. Could we be happy, if we weren't unhappy from time to time?


1) When you are down in the dumps, check your thoughts. Are they yours, or are you applying the world's rules on yourself ?

2) When you run into someone who is thirsty, very thirsty ... dig way deep, for the soul of this 'Samaritan' . Through the layers of our society, until you the person that God sees. With all this digging you build the well the other can drink from.
Or tie an extra long rope to your jug, so you can be sure to reach the living water no matter how deeply tucked away in the other. There is clear water in everyone, but in some it's further down.

You might like to read Sirach 11:1-13

JoAnne Lakefield

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