O let all who thirst, let them come to the water.
~John Foley SJ
This week as we move deeper into the Lenten season and our study of Parsons’ book, we’re called out into our deserts to look for living water. If you are like me, you may wander there often but remain restless and walled in by all sorts of distractions and routine, by circumstances you’ve told yourself are beyond your control. Responsibilities. A hectic job. Mortgages, car payments and college funds. Resentments and doubt. Commitments and promises and entrenched patterns, paths you’ve been walking down far too long now to ever consider changing course. These things affect your prayer life. They isolate you from your faith community. Maybe they stand between the person you’ve been and the person God is calling you to be.
Believe me, I struggle with all of these scenarios. One of the most achingly painful passages from the Gospels for me is Jesus’ call for his disciples to lose their lives for his sake. I tell myself, I wish I could . . so easy for you to say . . . I’ve become a wife and a mother and a teacher. I carry the jars to the well and bring all this water to others. How can I drop it all and follow you? But when I sit here preparing this reflection, it becomes blazingly clear that all of these things we tell ourselves — the things that make us busy or unworthy or stuck in one way or another — are impediments to the joy, peace, love and understanding God offers us if we only let them go. If only we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit continually calling us to conversion. To change. This, to me, is the Lenten journey. Calling me to not only purify my heart, but change my thinking and develop new patterns so that I see myself and my relationship with God anew. I know that all things are passing, and with patience and prayer, with faith and the hope that resides in the perpetual passing of time, we are in a constant state of becoming the person God calls us to be. In the midst of your wilderness, then, listen . . . and you will hear God’s voice beckoning you to let go and come to the water.
I don’t know if anybody can be converted without seeing themselves in a kind of blasting annihilating light, a blast that will last a lifetime . . . . I don’t think of conversion as being once and for all and that’s that. I think once the process is begun and continues that you are continually turning toward God and away from your egocentricity and that you have to see this selfish side of yourself in order to turn away from it. I measure God by everything that I am not. I begin with that.
~ Flannery O’Connor The Habit of Being
Behold, I make all things new ~ Rev 21:5
What are you clearing away this week? How are you nurturing your prayer life? Is there something standing between the person you’ve been and the person God is calling you to be? Parsons writes, What change would make life feel a little more open and free, more relaxed, trusting and faithful? In other words, how are you clearing space and turning toward God? We are thirsty for this relationship but for lack of a better metaphor, we can get mired in wilderness, wandering in the desert with a half empty cup. Lent is our annual invitation to make room. To let some things go and come to the water.
To the thirsty, I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.
~ Rev 21:6
Parsons reminds us that we often build up defenses around our hearts, defenses we’ve developed to protect our soft centers but that keep others out, including God. What kinds of defenses? Well, you know them. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Doubt. Isolation. Distraction. Denial. These, she says, have served us well, but Lent is a time to break open our hearts and reveal the vulnerabilities these defenses mask: by clearing space, we open a tender spot that we had closed off, and we offer it to God for healing.
Our time together with Parson’s book also coincides with the beautiful Gospel story of The Samaritan Woman at the Well, who encountered the living God quite unexpectedly while doing her daily chores. Let us not forget, either, that the unnamed woman was an outcast, forced to fetch water in the sweltering heat at midday when she knew she would not have to face the judgment of others. Living with fear and shame for things she had done and no doubt accustomed to being shunned and ignored, she is caught by surprise when the stranger speaks to her there and asks her for a drink. We know she gets much more than the water she came for, for she leaves her jar at the well and runs to share her story with others.
The encounter between Jesus and the unnamed woman offers something of an icon of the Lenten season and the invitation it extends to us. If we give ourselves to a daily practice, if we keep taking our vessel to the source even when we feel uninspired or the well seems empty or the journey is boring, if we walk with an openness to what might be waiting for us in the repetition and rhythm of our routines, we may suddenly find ourselves swimming in the grace and love of God that goes deeper than we ever imagined.
~Jan Richardson “A Well-Blessed Woman”
Use these questions to reflect on your own Lenten Journey. If you feel comfortable, share your stories by leaving a comment.
In what way(s) might the story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well mirror your own spiritual journey, especially during this Lenten season?
• What are you thirsty for and how are you clearing space this Lent to bring yourself to the well for living water?
• How might you bring this water to others?
• Where this week have you heard God’s voice breaking through?
If you are making your way here for the first time, we are discussing Sarah Parsons book A Clearing Season. If you don’t have the book, you can still follow along. Next week we will reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 and Ephesians 5: 8-14. Parsons asks us in the next chapter to listen for rhythms developing in our spiritual practice and to acknowledge and even welcome some element of struggle along the way.