Prayer is inevitably a self-confrontation. Its challenge is epitomized in the question posed in Exodus 17:7: “Is the Lord in our midst, or not?” Our way of living—or not living—tears the question from our throats. We take the radical risk of leaping into life and yet thirst for the Egypt we left behind. Frightened, exhausted, tattered and torn by the risking, we wonder at the worth of it all. Isn’t the “devil we knew” far better a companion than this God we cannot fathom at all?
Trying the faith route only leads to discovery of more hardships and sufferings. It is no easier a path than the enslavement we had so eagerly relinquished. Still, we thirst. Still, we hunger. Our loneliness has neither diminished nor disappeared. If the truth be known, we feel the pain and suffering even more sharply because this is the way we have chosen! Gone is the luxury of blaming someone else. Anguished, we wail, “Is the Lord in our midst, or not?”
It is too facile a response to say that God is among us and we must believe it. No matter how religious an answer that may be, it seems not to appease our thirst nor soothe our pain. Like the Lord Jesus, we have to pass through our own Samaria. We need to take the shortest, most efficacious route to our spiritual destination. Doing so forces us to enter a land filled with foreign thoughts, ideas, feelings, and people. The territory is dangerous. Enemies reside there and mockery reigns. The voyage is draining. Weary, worn, hungry, and thirsty, we arrive at the well of refreshment—where we find the Lord who is awaits us. We have to be there to let it happen. We have to ask the burning question.
Graciously, Jesus leaves us totally free. We are able to challenge him with our small-mindedness. In fact, contrariness prods us further into our question. Jesus allows us to begin with all the petty problems we use as obstacles to slow progress and hinder growth. It does not matter how many times or ways we say “Impossible!” Jesus replies with promises beyond our imagining. Answering, not in kind but in depth, Jesus reminds us, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty. The water I give shall be a fountain within, leaping up to provide eternal life” (Jn. 4:13–14).
Repeatedly, Jesus tells us, the Lord is in your midst. The answer is within you. Look—there I am at the core of your being! Strike that rock—and find healing waters within. Jesus will already be standing there, waiting. All things are possible when we work together with God.
Too often we believe only because it might mean an easier way to live. “Give me this water so that I shall not grow thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (Jn 4:15). Faithfulness is yet to be achieved. However, God chooses not to berate the selfishness, but gently draws us more deeply into divine presence. God’s transforming gentleness wins us over. Revelation results. Unveiling our truth, we discover God-in-us.
Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp., in The Woman at the Well, explains it beautifully. “Each lost human self may have its own story of five or more husbands. We may have been wedded to fame and glory, to the gang, the in-group, the community, to money and success, to popularity, pleasure and power, to some social cause. We may have tried out some or all of them to find ultimate happiness and meaning in life. We may not have realized what we were doing. But the Lord knows . . . the innermost recesses of the human heart. Suddenly, his grace may touch us, incite us to confront ourselves and our unholy liaisons. At the same time he deepens in us the faith, hope and love that may carry us through such a crisis of self-discovery.”
Our life situation is the “well” where, daily, we meet the Lord. At this wellspring we receive the invitation to give up something precious. It is there that the challenge to unfold a graced Christian life is offered us. Van Kaam writes:
If, with the Samaritan woman, we say yes to this call, we emerge as a new self in Christ. We bury the old self fixated on one “husband” after another. We rise anew in Christ; he will reveal to us our graced possibilities for growth in him. Like the woman at the well we, too, may be shaken loose from everything we believed we could humanly count on.
At such times our life may seem almost catastrophic. The shake-up may be so strong that it becomes impossible for us to retreat comfortably to what used to be. The woman meeting Jesus had reached a point of no return. She could no longer experience the joy of going back in a relaxed and unperturbed way to her past life. Her self-image is changed irrevocably under the impact of the perception evoked by Jesus.
The Samaritan woman quenched her thirst for a real relationship by revealing her weakest self to the stranger who was interested only in reflecting her truth and revealing his own. She tried every trick she knew to deflect his care-filled concentration—only to discover that her would not be moved from his loving response. Nor would he refrain from continuing revelation. Nothing drew Christ away from her. Not even the approach, the surprised return of his disciples, could do it. Ignoring the woman standing there, they urged him to take care of himself. Steadfast in his caring, Jesus remained where he was.
She was changed. In a sense, so was the Lord. He was touched by this woman who came to understand him while his own disciples were still wondering who he was and what he was all about. She came to the well and discovered that refreshment was always available within her own truth. Her truth made her one with the Lord of Truth.
So it is with us. Wells are everywhere. In every desert place, for every desert person, we are oases witnessing to the Lord’s strength. Powerfully compassionate, our God tells us everything we ever did and loves us all the while. Transformed by such great love, it is good for us to cry out, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” It is good to be pierced with the question, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” Each inquiry strikes at our rock-solid stubbornness, allowing grace to penetrate. Healing waters can now flow freely for God’s people to drink. Only then will we be able to see ourselves as we are. Only then will we see with our hearts. Only then will the words of faith be integrated into our lifestyle. Made whole and holy, we can say, “No longer does our faith depend on your story. We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this really is the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42).
Having opened our eyes to see, our ears to hear, we now truly believe. We have struck our rock-hard stubbornness and found refreshing grace.
The Lord is in our midst!
God of healing water, I beg you to meet me at the wellspring of my life. Help me to see that I am in need of spiritual refreshment. Help me to know that I cannot find that strength in things nor in power, prestige, or position. Let me look with honesty at my life to see it as it is, not as I pretend it to be. Give me the humility I need in order to hear you ask of me, “Give me a drink.” Hearing, let me then go into the world in which I live and proclaim the wonder of your saving presence in our lives. Amen.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), where this meditation originally appeared. She is lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.