March 15th, 2020
Third Sunday of Lent – John 4:5-42
In the “Pacific NW” section of the Seattle Times last Sunday, I read an article called, “Disappearing Daughters”; about young women, murdered and missing, in Juarez, Mexico. The mothers of these daughters are fighting back, intent on keeping the memory of their daughters alive; stilled voices that continue to cry out in this desert border town. Reading the article, what I found hauntingly mysterious is that each victim’s name begins with “Maria”: for example, “Maria Luisa”; “Maria Eugenia” and so on. At birth, each daughter was dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus and most blest among women.
At the margins of the article there’s found excerpts from “Killing Marias”, a book of poetry by the Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna. Poems dedicated to these missing daughters.
The title of each poem aligns itself with Marian titles found in the “Litany of Loreto”; Luna, herself a devout Catholic. In the poem, “Maria Luisa, Ark of the Covenant” we find the words,
Sullied memories
and yet
feet on uneven ground
women meet themselves
each day.
These mothers have joined with activists and artists to stand in solidarity against a culture of “machismo”; translated “chauvinism”. Together, they “find themselves” and the memory of their daughters lives on because of this thirst for justice and work of the gospel.
In the gospel Jesus, tired from his journey, encounters a Samaritan woman at the well. She, too, is someone who has ‘disappeared’ in the eyes of the townspeople due to her lifestyle. She is a woman shunned and forced to fetch water in the day’s heat; at noon. Standing on “uneven ground”, her life is thrown off course and into question. It was the practice of women in that time to fetch water in the morning. Not this woman, however, isolated and very much alone; until now. Because the tide turns in her favor and as Jesus initiates a conversation asking: “Give me a drink.” This catches her off-guard, in that this request comes, not only from a man, but a Jew; unthinkable at that time. Yet, this is so characteristic of Jesus who goes beyond the pale so much of the time. Like water, he’s always seeking the lowest place. And the ground beneath this woman’s feet begins to level.
At first the woman is defensive, questioning; suspicious of the outreach. Then, the course of the conversation shifts as Jesus, wanting to go deeper, brings her face to face with that thirst water cannot quench. Like a lake reflecting a summer sky, Jesus mirrors back what’s within her: the vain and arid search that life has become. But life is meant to be so much more. There is so much more to us. I’m reminded of words by the Oregon writer Brian Doyle who said: “No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.”
Jesus, too, experienced this interior churning; this thirst. Did he not cry out from the cross, “I thirst”? Not a thirst for what was offered—a sponge soaked in vinegar—but for God. This cry, too, was one of empathy. Together with the woman at the well, Jesus understands how we “all churn inside”. Both Jesus and the woman stand on common ground because of this flow of empathy.
In her poem “Thirst” Mary Oliver writes:
I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have…
Oh Lord…grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart…
with this thirst I am
slowly learning.
So, this gospel conversation at the well continues to go “on and ever on” within the ‘well’ of our own hearts: that inner ground urging us to go deep; beyond a life lived on the surface and without empathy. This conversation is heard when we find the willingness to listen; like the woman who lets the words seep in, though she does not initially understand. She does, however, leave her bucket behind— her futile search at an end-when, at last, she senses in Jesus someone who fathoms her heart. Who understands her without rejection.
During my theological studies, Philippe Roulliard, a French Benedictine, taught that the sacramental life does not give us what we do not already have. Rather, it awakens within us what is already there; made in God’s Image and likeness as we are. I’ve never forgotten that insight that has sloshed within me ever since! Jesus awakens within this woman a thirst common to all of us; that life-giving promise that is ours: “A spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It is what begins to gush within us when we drink it all in. Yet, not before there’s faced within our own parched predicament as happened to this woman when Jesus intervened at her lowest point. Her story is meant to become our own. Again, Mary Oliver: “I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have”. Yet, the labor of conversion is not without promise. This is the Good News. Can we find the courage to drink it in in ways that change us for the better?
This Lent I have been reading a collection of essays by Brian Doyle called, “One Long River of Song”. They were posthumously published recently, Doyle dying all too soon in 2017. I love the poetic flow of his words: with such grace and very much like Jesus. In one essay he writes:
God’s inevitable nature closer to us than we are to ourselves, who slakes all those who thirst; which is each of us; which is all of us.
My friends, “We all churn inside”. Simply, we thirst for God who, above all, fathoms hearts. This Lent, are we willing to wake up and drink it in?
Father Tim Clark