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Outlooks from the Inner Life

By Cedric Speyer



Woman by the well
Grace thirsting for her
Mist veils lifted from her face
A face every religion
tries to remember

The story of the woman by the well begins with Jesus feeling very human . . . depleted and drained and in need of rest and replenishment. So he sits by Jacob’s well and, when a woman arrives with a bucket, he expresses his need: “Give me a drink of water.”

The woman is taken aback. In speaking to her, Jesus is crossing all kinds of boundaries and so she does not attend to his request, but asks instead, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink?” If she were from our “politically correct” culture, she would have been thinking or saying, “inappropriate behaviour.” Jesus responds by calling attention to a deeper level of encounter. “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

The Samaritan woman does not comprehend, resisting when faced with an agenda of the untrusted other. Her attention is on what Jesus lacks: “Sir you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

When we see others through filters of judgment, deficiency, and comparison, it’s an isolating stance — setting us apart from them, from God, and even from ourselves. Yet the redemptive aspect of the story is that the Samaritan woman does not disregard Jesus; she continues to dialogue. At any moment she could have stopped the conversation and walked away, “setting limits” on the perceived presumption and intrusion. She doesn’t. She keeps the flow of the dialogue and the inquiry and the search for common ground going.

Yet she attempts to turn attention away from herself to a discussion of religion (something a little more abstract and not so uncomfortable): “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Again, Jesus reframes the communion available to all seekers: “. . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” God thirsts for intimacy with us as much as we thirst to know and be known by God. One imagines the Samaritan woman as beautiful.

The Samaritan woman knows about God, yet her willingness to stay the course, to continue the dialogue with Jesus, to listen and to learn, allows her to experience God. She gets it. Something shifts in her, she who was alone and marginalized (coming as she does to draw water from the village well at high noon instead of in the cool of early morning with all the other village women). She returns to her community to draw others to Jesus.

The dialogue between Jesus and the woman transforms both of them and in turn brings healing to a whole community. Dialogue can do that. Dialogue in which each listens deeply to the other is transformative.

Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. Connect with Cedric on or via