Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Healed Woman (Part 2: With the Samaritan Woman at the Well)

This post is the ninth in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

Woman at the Well by Liz Lemon Swindle

"She that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and she that murmured shall learn doctrine."
Isaiah 29:24

This post is long overdue. I knew that I understood the subject matter well enough to write about it two months ago. I usually know what I'm going to write about ahead of time, and some experience or conversation cements the angle that I'm going to take. Interestingly, the conversation that sparked this article was with the same friend that I talked to about the woman taken in adultery. Who knew that two women, from very different backgrounds, could both identify so intimately with these women who are profiled in the New Testament? God, I guess.

God knew something else. Just two weeks before I had this conversation with my friend, I had received an answer to a long-standing prayer about the sealing ordinancean answer that had everything to do with women's roles and equality. Now, this is a theme that I've probably explored before, so I won't develop this tangent too much further, but it took me five years to get the answer to this question. And the reason it took so long was because God was answering me all along, but He (and She) was doing it line-upon-line. My heart wasn't prepared for the answer the moment I asked the question, so instead God has spent the last five years teaching me the fundamental things I would need to know before I would understand.

And this conversation, with my friend, was precipitated because she came home from church with the sealing ordinance weighing heavily on her mind. While at church she had prayed for God to teach her more about this ordinance. And voila! I was blessed with an opportunity to share what I'd been taught, and she was given an answer to prayer almost instantaneously. 

I don't pretend to know exactly why God gave me the answer to my question five years after I'd asked, and why He (and She) gave my friend the answer within five hours, but I feel joy about the way things happened regardless.

This same arc of becoming converted to truth in our questioning unfolds in John 4 in an encounter between Christ and the woman at the well. I love this story.

The setting is a well, Jacob’s well, located outside the city of Sychar, in Samaria. Jesus, who is wearied by his travels sits down at the well, and after a bit of time, a local woman, identified only as the “woman of Samaria” in the text, approaches.

Christ asks her for a drink.

"How is it that thou, a Jew, asketh drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

She's feisty.

“If thou knowest the gift of God, and who it is that said to thee 'Give me to drink,' thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

He's good.

She retorts, “Sir, the well is deep and thou has nothing to draw with; from whence then has thou that living water?" And before Christ can answer her question, she continues, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us this well?”

She's not giving in that easy.

Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give [her] shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give [her] shall be in [her] a well of water, springing up into everlasting life,” he responds.

You can read the rest of the exchange in John 4:16-42. But for a quick summary, keep reading here.

Christ inquires about her husband. She tells him she has no husband and Christ points out that she has had five husbands, and that the man she has currently is not her husband. At this she perceives that Christ is a prophet. He continues to teach her, here at this well, and just prior to testifying to her of his divinity and mission, he calls her "Woman." You might remember the importance of this title from a prior post.

Woman is the English marker of an ancient word that was used when addressing queens.

It finally clicks for the woman of Samaria. When Christ says, "I that speak unto thee am he," she leaves her water pot behind, returns to her city and tells her loved ones that the Savior has come.

But how is this old story, this 20-verse-cameo-appearance by a nameless woman, relevant?

I think it's her honesty.

She doesn't shy away from anything she's feeling. She might not spell it out for Christ (or the modern reader), but it's obvious that her defiance and spiritedness must be masking some pain. And as for the source of the pain, there are lots of possibilities.

She's had five husbands. Hard to say whether they were lost to divorce or death, but we do know that they must have been lost.

She's currently connected to a man who is not her husband. Are they living in sin? Or is Christ communicating to her that this manwhoever he isis not meant to be her husband, and perhaps she knows that deep down but doesn't want to give him up? The details are not for us to know, but I'd guess whatever the dynamic is, it's not fun.

Or maybe her hutzpah is the product of her social situation. The Samaritans were not treated very well by the Jews. Or maybe she learned to be tough because she was a woman. The women were not treated very well by the men.

And maybe I'm wrong about the pain. That's possible too. Perhaps this woman is just a really cerebrally oriented person. Maybe her discomfort comes from a collection of unanswered questions. Before she realizes that the man in front of her is in fact, Christ, she says, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." I love her emphasis on tell. I am certainly excited for Christ to come so that he can unfold his revelations to me. I have so many questions that they form a veritable mountain, and it is always relieving when I can remove a question from the heap.

I really appreciate the generality of this story because it allows me to insert my own angst behind her words and questions. And I'm grateful for her honesty. She, a woman, told Christ, a man, how it was. And he listened. Isn't that amazing? He listened to a questioning, obstinate woman. Even when hethe Savior of the worldwas sitting right in front of her, and she was not recognizing him. I think he listened to her because for him she was not merely a questioning obstinate woman. She was a questioning obstinate Queen.

(By the way, women are totally allowed to be questioning, obstinate, stubborn, angry, and slow to yield. Those aren't male-exclusive weaknesses. You can still be feminine and hard-headed. So if you see some of these qualities in yourselves female readers, and you are shaming yourselves for being this way, knock it off! It's a great starting point, I think. For men and women alike. You'll still have to learn how to be easily entreated, but you've got a friend on that path. Her name is Amber.)

He's very patient. And I think we all can take a leaf out of the woman of Samaria's book. We can be honest with him, you know. Some of us lead very hard lives. Harder than others'. And we can be honest with him about the parts of ourselves that seem to separate us from others. The darkest most isolated parts of our souls. Do we all realize that the Atonement is the balm, the counterbalance for the very most atrocious things that have happened on this Earth?

Christ has felt the pain, the darkness, and the weight for everything that has ever happened. For massacres, for abuse, for murder, and exploitation, for betrayal, for death, for grief, for war, for crime, for evil. Christ is the ultimate protagonist and his light will outshine the darkest evil you can ever experience, even the darkest evil you can imagine.

So you can be honest with him, like this woman, about your questions, and about the dark places from which they stem.  He knows darker places than anything you can tell him about. But it doesn't matter. He will never patronize you. He will listen. And he will keep on listening until you understand enough for him to show you the lighthis light really.

And if you listen close enough, you'll probably hear him say to you, like he did to her, "Woman."