Looking back I see that I have written before about Jesus meeting the woman at the well. It seems to me there is always space in the world for writing about this remarkable meeting again. But first…
As I write we are early into Lent and we can all play the Lent game. 'I gave up fudge, coffee, cigars, crisps, Turkish delight.' I guess there is nothing wrong with these habits, if you are doing something along those lines, good luck to you. But perhaps Lent is also a time for enriching ourselves with the Spirit. At morning prayer recently along came John 4:1-30. Rather than read this clumsy and earth-bound reflection perhaps go and read it, and then read it again. I have spoken before about the peculiar reverse Church alchemy: turning that which is glorious into something not that interesting and there has been a long historical labour at making the Bible a horrendously boring book, full of top-down morals and uplifting examples (not however from early Christian writers on the Bible. If you read, for example, Origen or Gregory of Nyssa you discover that they see the Bible as full of hidden mysteries and symbols and revelations). The Bible is actually a book full of visions, as the poet William Blake said, it is full of spiritual riches. Sure, it is a difficult book, a challenging book, but it is a book to enrich us at the deepest levels of our being. We could jump into its depths more this Lent.
Take John 4:1-30. After you have read it you are full of wonderings and insights. For one thing, notice how deeply Jesus listens to the woman at the well, how he is open, indeed vulnerable, with her, asking for a drink at the start. Then there is the profundity of her question to him, a question all of us, when we realise how spiritually thirsty we are, might ask. 'Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?' Where indeed? We look for the living water, here, there, everywhere. Jesus tells us that we can find this water within us. He is the teacher of interior kingdoms. 'The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.'
Jesus is talking about the gift of prayer, a secret gift waiting to be realised in each of us. One of the things we can do this Lent is make time to pray. Be still. Be silent. When thoughts come take a moment to silently say a prayer, or prayer word. Maybe God, or Jesus, or love, or Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, or something else. Spend time in that depth of prayer, returning to your silent word or words when distracted. It's one way of discovering the living water of God within you.
In this passage of John Jesus takes the woman into the heart of his essentially mystical teaching. 'But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.' This whole sequence is impossibly rich. You could spend all of Lent with this story. We all will see different truths in the story but for me it is a teaching of the inner kingdom of Spirit. It can be very hard to find the door into this inner kingdom. A lot of people do not talk about it. Even when you meet the inner kingdom in the Bible, which you do, again and again, you will notice that somebody will instead talk about an arcane bit of history or draw a quick moral or do anything rather than open the door into the riches of the spiritual life. Jesus is a teacher of the mysteries of the inner kingdom and this radiant passage from John is one of the greatest passages of his teaching. Spend some time with Jesus and the woman at the well and listen to those words which carry so much, which open so many doors, which point to the living water, 'The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.'
Reverend Ben Brown