IN A WELL ABOUT NOON

jesus-samaritan-woman-japanese

THERE’S USUALLY A NEAT LITTLE CIRCULAR WALL in the mind’s eye. Those Jack and Jill early-readers (along with fearful little tales we made up for ourselves) had a way of engraving their illustrations upon our imaginations. Circular, in this case. With a little roof, a winding handle, a wound rope and – though just out of sight, a bucket. A well. All neat and tidy and deep and protected. Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood all had one too.

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’.John 4.5

Well, the mind’s eye readily envisages that little scene. Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Each exhausted for different but not-so-different “journeying” reasons. Set to fetch a pail of water – from the well Jacob (who “takes by the heel”) once gifted to Joseph (who “adds and increases”), along with a multi-coloured overcoat. But still, the Gospel story doesn’t always quite tell us everything, does it? Not every detail, noon-tide clock-watching notwithstanding. Something’s always – and purposefully – left to prayerful imagination and humility or groundedness.Or, in this case, well-ness! I like to think, by way of example, that Jesus might at the very least have requested a drink with the word “please” or some such. Be that as it may. My imagination went deeper. Wetter. More involved. The wonders of the internet presented me with a delightful little Japanese painting. And wonder upon wonder, what do I see? Neither thirsty sojourner is sitting on a wall around a well. Each encounters the other – one male, prayerfully observant Jew, and one much-married female, prayerfully observant Samaritan – from within a well, without a wall at all.

Here’s an early hint that this well mightn’t be just a provider of water. Here’s a suggestion as to why this well wouldn’t have a wall. Here’s a little parable that might enable any of us, female or male – all of us struggling to love and to be loved, all of us grappling with “honour / shame” issues, all of us hungry for sufficient affirmation to boost our perpetually flagging self-confidence (our egos), all of us having known more than our fair share of partners or husbands or wives, in our imaginations if that was all that was on offer – to stand tall.

Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t keep his distance. Neither does he embark upon a battle of words as to whether Samaritan sacrifices on Mount Gerazim or Jewish offerings on Mount Zion are better pleasing to God. Even his assertion that “salvation comes from the Jews” could refer to Jewish sense of “chosen-ness” which Jesus seems all too willing (already noon, the hour is coming) to apply widely. I wonder, indeed, whether his mentioning the woman’s having “had five husbands” was even strictly “prophetic”. It only requires a bit of imagination, in any of us, to recognise the yearning – the thirst – for love in another. It’s likely, for most if not all of us, that there’ll have been quite a bit of both searching and finding, and searching some more. And ordinarily wells provide only water. We’ll have to keep coming back. And the fetching and the carrying are something that the overburdened woman well imagines she could do without. Living water welling up from within sounds just great to her.

And the name of this living water is love. Again and again Jesus of Nazareth demolishes walls. Ultimately neither Gerazim nor Zion are the end of the story. Divisions between human persons – setting apart nations on the grand scale, and women and men on the domestic, must, along with “prophecies”, cease. It’s about noon. The sun is right overhead. Near. Present to all. Time for a drink and a rest at the well of life. There’s always time for sabbath moments, reviving, reconciling moments, everyday, everywhere, for everyone. No nation is purer than another nation. No man better, purer or higher than a woman. And we all of us get to drink of the living water the moment we realise that it’s absolutely OK – male or female – when it comes to the well of life – to engage in our encounters as equals at the well. Within.

One might call such an encounter a (wholly accessible) holy communion.

WITHERED HAND, WITHERED HEARTS

counselagainst

Audio: “Withered hand, withered hearts” at 10.30am today here

JESUS SEEKS TO HEAL “a man with a withered hand” in our Gospel account today – eucharistic lectionary: Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17 & Mark 3.1-6 – “and the priests took counsel against him”. God help us then. God help us all to learn a new lesson, a “gospel lesson” – a couple of thousand years after this account was presented to us. How often does God seek to heal by means of human hand and heart, only to have the leaders of the world’s various religious institutions rise up to “take counsel against?”

What are we dealing with here. One withered hand – or millions and millions of withered hearts? 

May the Gospel challenge us! – until God’s Kingdom of justice and righteousness for ALL people – the reign of the “King of Salem”, the “King of Righteousness” – be come on earth as it is in heaven.

LETTING WORDS GO …

IT’S WELL NIGH impossible to describe the measure of “peace that passeth understanding” that is experienced here during our monthly gatherings for Monday Meditation. That, in part, must be due to the fact that meditation is really about letting go of thoughts and words and just being. I’m mindful this evening of the gospel account of the great storm that frightened Jesus’ disciples out of their wits. His words for them are words we do well to hear now:

Peace. Be still.

A core group of around 75 people are practising regularly in and around our parish church, and many tell me that the “peace” spoken of in the ancient prayers of the Church – but not always experienced – is becoming a deeper reality for them.

For all that Jesus calls us to rise up and follow him into action, (said one note this week) there’s no avoiding the message that he still speaks when we get caught in – or turn life into a storm. Always the same: ‘Peace. Be still.’

I’m grateful.

MARY’S DRESS

BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?

ROUNDEDNESS & EDGES

EASTER HOLIDAYS, I suppose rather obviously, occasion a procession of thoughts about resurrection, about new life and the way it arises and surprises – leaping out of roundedness and edginess and colour. Holidays become holy days and the art and craft of Life come much more clearly – and frequently – into focus. As the lovely hymn has it: “Colours of day dawn into the mind, the sun has come up, the night is behind.”

Easter’s wonderful, and it’s great that Easter Sunday stretches onwards into Eastertide. Resurrection shapes and moulds me, calling me both inwards and upwards, downwards, outwards and sideways, beckoning me into fuller, freer use of the great gift of imagination, and into the times and places of rich and iridescent colour, in contemplation and in meditation, in people and in prayer, in books and in art, in hymnody and psalmody, in human creativity, in food and drink, in love and laughter, in freshly laundered soft cotton clothes, in divinely fashioned lakes and trees and sky and flowers. Easter reaches me, touches me, heals me; the Risen Jesus models for me a person possessed of both roundedness and edge, a person who loves enough and is quietened often enough to make of every day a holy day. I’ll try to be a more observant disciple.

 

A TENDER RECOGNITION

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her. John 20.11-18

THE MARY MAGDALENE of my own imagination doesn’t look at all like some of those depressing religious pictures. Not a haloed saint, not miserably gazing upon a skull set down in the middle of her dressing table, not wanton, bare-breasted, or mournfully reflecting upon her dreadfulness and that of others “of her kind”. No, my Mary Magdalene, first apostle, is an ordinarily beautiful, fully alive, self-aware, tactile, tender, practical, imaginative and lovely young woman. Human and humane. Someone possessed of an extraordinary ability to empathise, a bit of a loner perhaps, someone who “gets it” when Jesus speaks, someone who, just because she’s lovely – inside and out – is great to be around. And Jesus loves her.

I don’t know who made the gorgeous image above – (I’d love to know – and would gladly credit it) – but here’s the girl in my heart, using her own imagination to tell Jesus that she understands more than perhaps even he thinks she does; that she loves him; that loving him heals her and makes her whole; that her love might bring something of healing to him.

Here’s the Mary I imagine went on from this Prologue – this genesis, this in-the-flesh close-breathing, this out-of-the-ordinary, tearful, beyond-the-Law touching of the Word-before-time, this “costly” anointing, this first moment of tender intimacy, and wholly mutual acceptance – to have a thousand little conversations with Jesus, long before the ultimate events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week (“it’s no wonder they call you the Master, love. None of us have ever met or dreamed about someone quite like you”). A thousand little conversations about what was to be in the future, their future, everybody’s future (the future of R S Thomas’ “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and Love looks at them back”) – after the “return” to “my father and your father”, to Where we came from.

Mary, imagine …, Mary, turn around …, Mary, can you feel it? …, Mary, the colours …, Mary, the joy of it …

Yes, I can imagine. I want to imagine. We all do. But if you died first, Jesus, God knows what I’ll do. You must be careful. We need you. Don’t strain so. O God. I know you’ll have to go. And I shall want you to, of course. Yes, we’ve talked about it often enough. But will you really come back to me? From the inside out? Jesus, I believe. Help me when my heart breaks. Help me in my unbelief …

Mary, Mary, Mary. I will. I will. I truly believe we’ll find each other on the inside …

If fully human Jesus was Everyman then Mary of Magdala is Everywoman. To prostitute her memory is wicked calumny – (how many unseeing men, half-dead, dull-in-heart-and-mind-and-head, have done that through the centuries?) – calumny of a kind that has led, and still leads, to immeasurable sickness of head and heart and soul and mind and body. Masculine and feminine, each needs the other. ( Both traits found in both women and in men, heterosexual or homosexual – it’s an “other” that’s the key requirement here). Thank God that the crisis wrought by precisely that sickness, and agonisingly recognised as the “hole in the heart” not just of the Church but of humankind generally today, can hardly help now but to point humankind everywhere on earth towards the light of a “more excellent”, a wholly more natural, and healthier, God-given way.

Human relationships, as much as for any of the ways we relate to the Divine, are not to be patronising, patriarchal, law-bound, or shame-laden. Human relationships will thrive, and the reign of God come to be felt among us, when they instinctively include, and resist exclusion. Love is not to be imprisoned or entombed. And, post-crisis, then and now, a wider-reaching Love is here to stay. Though patience is still required, though sin and death appear yet, in places, still to prevail, a new way of loving is here to stay. A new Way, a new Truth, a new Life.

Mr Vernon Dursley to Harry Potter about a certain (Wise old? Dove-like?) owl:

‘If you can’t control that owl, it’ll have to go!’
Harry tried, yet again, to explain.
‘She’s bored,’ he said. ‘She’s used to flying around outside. If I could just let her out at night …’
‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy moustache. ‘I know what’ll happen if that owl’s let out.’
He exchanged dark looks with his wife, Petunia.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

On Resurrection Day, “when it dawns on us”, in Mary and in Jesus, Wisdom is encountered entre deux. Wisdom’s used to flying around outside, she’s done so since the genesis of things, and before that, too; she carries messages home – for the inside, the God-side. Yes, there’s real intimacy here, a communicating communion sort of a business. But an early lesson in wisdom for all humankind is “do not cling”. Let him, let her, fly. Let the Spirit blow where She listeth. Something’s dawning. Look at the sky.

Ascension – returning – to the fullness of God lies yet ahead, though this very Resurrection morning it is an energising Hope. A hope that will ultimately change the course of the history of worlds. For there will be a returning, a tender returning, a deeply intimate, glorious, colourful, joyful, prayerful, fulsome returning for Everyone to the One who is both “my father and your father”. Don’t cling today beautiful Mary. But, believe me, lovely, knowing, wise and giving Mary, the day will dawn when we may cling, and we may laugh, and we may talk and pray and sing “We’re an Easter people! All of us! And alleluia is our song”.

And on that day I believe Jesus will be heard greeting his Mary of Madgdala as Rabbuni. Teacher. Master … She’s beautiful. Just like this painting. An ordinary, beautiful girl. Just sometimes a little bit wild. And she gets it, perhaps she is, Wisdom.

Jan Richardson and her husband Garrison Coles have made the
exquisitely beautiful The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Enjoy it here

 

YOU’LL FOLLOW ME LATER

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ – John 13.38 JB

YOU WILL FOLLOW ME LATER. There’s the hope of the Gospel. Notwithstanding every human frailty that can be mustered, aware, even, that you will deny me, my beloved friend, you will follow me later. Denial will meet its match. Thank God.

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