In Ignatian contemplation, we place ourselves inside a Biblical scene and imagine being part of it. I wonder, what was it like to be an Israelite woman who, having lived all her life by the Nile, finds herself out in the desert with Moses?
We are thirsty. A week ago, we lived in a watered land, and now thousands of us are marching through the desert. This man Moses demanded the Pharaoh let us go. He called on the name of God and it was as if all of creation rose up against the Egyptians, frogs and hailstorms and insects, the Nile filled with blood, Pharaoh’s cattle dying of plague. (I didn’t see all of this, but everyone was talking about it.) Finally, God killed the firstborn of the Egyptians, and Pharaoh let us go.
Moses says we are free, but to leave the green land of our forebears and come out into this desert – what kind of freedom is this? Almost nothing grows out here. Underfoot are only sand and rocks. We have been walking day after day in the heat, and our feet are raw and bloody. All we can think of is water. Did Moses bring us here just to die of thirst?
But then he strikes a rock with his staff and water pours out of it! We drink, we water our cattle, fill our water skins, and walk on. We complain about hunger and look! at evening, quails fly into the camp, and in the morning the ground is covered with flakes of bread. In this wasteland we have plenty – but how long will it last? Can we trust this God of Moses? Will he protect us, or will he lead us far out and then abandon us? We knew how to survive in Egypt, but here?
It takes forty years to silence our doubts. Too late for us who complained the whole way. We are buried under the desert sand. Of the thousands who left Egypt, only Moses and Joshua are alive. Now it is up to our children. They know how to trust God. This land is all they have known. They will enter the land God once promised us, long ago. If only we had believed. But we remained enslaved to our fears the rest of our lives.
Now, we move forward 1300 years. I am a woman in Samaria, in Sychar where our ancestor Joseph lived as a boy. This land is ours: we remained here when the other tribes were taken by the Assyrians into exile. This land is rich and green, without rivers but blessed by God with rain. The grass never fails, and we have many cattle and sheep and many, many people. We worship God on our own hilltop. We have indeed been blessed, but yet there is a thirst that nothing can fill.
I say ‘we,’ but my people have pushed me aside, because I live with a man who is not my husband. It’s why I am here at the cistern to draw water at midday instead of in the cool morning with the other women. Today a stranger comes, hot, dirty, and thirsty, a Jew. He sends the people with him into town and walks over to the cistern and sits down. He asks me for water. A strange Jew talking to a woman, a Samaritan! Our peoples despise each other; we won’t even drink out of the same well. But then he offers me living water, so that I will never thirst again, and I think, “I won’t have to come alone to draw water in the heat.”
So, I give him some water, and he tells me my story, how husband after husband died without giving me children, and how the one who has me now refuses to marry. I look up and meet his eyes, and they are filled with gentleness and compassion and respect. I have never known anyone like this. He speaks to me as an equal and listens to what I say with his whole being. We begin to talk about the different ways Samaritans and Jews worship our Creator, and he tells me that sometime soon everyone will worship God “in spirit and in truth.” I’m not sure what he means but the words stir my heart. We talk about how we all are waiting for the Messiah, and he smiles and says, “I am the one for whom you have waited.”
I stare into his eyes and it is as though light is pouring down around us. For an instant everything is still, then I drop my water jar and run down the road, past his followers returning with food, and into the marketplace. I am babbling, “He is here, the Messiah. At our well! It is he!”
The other villagers come and look into Jesus’s eyes, and then they invite these Jews to stay with us. They remain two days. This is the first time any of us has shared bread with Jews and, after all, they are not so different from us. We become friends. I talk with one of them, and he tells me he was a fisherman when Jesus called him. He says, “Jesus didn’t have to say anything much, just looked into our eyes and said ‘come’, and my brother James and I left everything behind for him. We never looked back.” He said, “This life is hard; some days we walk a long way on empty stomachs, and we aren’t always welcome. But it is all right because we are with him. We are following our hearts and not worrying too much about what comes next. As long as we are with Jesus, the rest doesn’t matter.”
John is right: we have met the Chosen One of God and nothing else matters. Who can experience Jesus and not be changed? I have my place back in the community, and I pray that some day we will meet again.