Friday, 21 March 2014

Anam Cara

John 4:5-42 

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied 

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
  At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
  Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’

This year, our Lenten Letter from the Bishop was about Confession, with the clear exhortation of how Confession is  the Sacrament of Lent and how Confession will bring us back into the company of God. The word, Confession, was used so many times that  I started to shrivel into my seat. After all Confession suggests that I am filled with a wrongness that I am avoiding. Confession suggests guilt and shame. Confession is what has kept people silent and unhealed for far too many years. 

The Sacrament of Lent is not Confession; it's Reconciliation. In centuries past  Confession was a practice that led to punishment - being shunned by your community, sometimes for years. 

The Sacrament that we share now come from the practice of the Irish Monks; the practice of Anam Cara - the soul friend - where brothers would speak to their Abbot or trusted elder and share in the experience and the peace-giving of another traveller on the road. It was a practice of knowing our humanity and God's grace given in spite of everything. A sacrament of friendship and renewal.

Confession waits for condemnation, Reconciliation seeks wholeness and relationship.

 I had never really connected the Samaritan woman with the Sacrament until this last week when  I was talking with the RCIA group as they prepare for this Sacrament without the traditional fears of dark confessionals, grumpy priests or fears unheard. Nevertheless, there is something about admitting to your weaknesses in front of another human being. I reminded them of the Woman at the Well.

Jesus is sitting, waiting;  his friends off feeding the body rather that the spirit - other priorities; other places to be. 

The woman comes to the well. Maybe no great sinner (though aren't we all?) but not right.  Something not right about a woman who has grieved for five husbands and whatever the circumstance of the present relationship. Certainly something not right about a woman coming to the well alone; without women friends; without a child on her back or running around her feet.

Not an outcast; she returns to her village quite believing that she will be heard. She can certainly hold her own in conversation with a stranger - but something.

She knows herself;  her longings; she wants to feel right. She is prepared to do the work; she enters into dialogue with the 'enemy'; enters into relationship with this man who knows her in spite of  the bravado and the stigma of who she is or is not. Jesus  has what she needs. He speaks with an openness of heart that encourages her to have the confidence and humility to ask for it.  Not out of shame or even guilt; but with with the faith she already has and the optimism that God's grace is the answer. God's grace will be revealed in her. She will know herself loved.

And then, she has the generosity of spirit to pour out that grace on others. bringing them to the well, whilst Jesus' disciples are still wondering what he has been up to. 

What a wonderful way this would be to approach the Sacrament especially in this time of Lent -when we are seeking our way through desert paths - what an opportunity to find an oasis in which to sit with a friend; to be unburdened; to be made new.



Lynda said...

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of healing and restoration of our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. I also encourage the RCIA to look upon this Sacrament as a great opportunity to be made clean. Thanks for this post.

Gelli Ma said...

They are a good group Lynda - thanks and blessings