|Published on Sun, Mar 15, 2020 1:24 PM|
Years ago, when my children were small, one of them had a lot of trouble with nightmares.
In fact, it got so bad that we had a couple months when she wouldn’t go near her bedroom. About the same time, I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While my husband was home dealing with small children and nightmares, the pilgrimage group was visiting Jacob’s Well, the place mentioned in today’s gospel reading.
The church built atop Jacob’s Well is perhaps my favorite place in all of the Middle East. There is something deeply sacred about that church and the priest who cares for those holy grounds. It is in the middle of the West Bank, a place fraught with tension and violence as the local Palestinians and nearby Israeli settlers clash frequently. It is a challenging place and a place filled with centuries of prayer, love, loss, and joy.
Our group explored the gorgeous church, filled with all sorts of glass and decoration before descending a dim stairway into the basement. We crowded into a small room at the bottom of the narrow staircase, smelling dank and like mildew. The floor was ancient stones, rubbed smooth by centuries of pilgrims before us. And in the center, a well, Jacob’s Well. The well where Jesus and the Samaritan woman who had no name met in the heat of the day and carried on a lengthy discourse. We read this long story out loud, and then, we took turns drinking water drawn from the well. It was a deeply powerful moment for our group. Living water. What does that mean? How does this water change us?
Before we left the grounds of that church, I purchased two things: this icon and this.
The icon bears the image of Jesus and the woman deep in conversation at the well.
And this, is what is called an aspergillum. This is used to disperse holy water, living water, as a blessing upon God’s people. For those of you watching at home, take the next 30 seconds to go and wash your hands or use some hand sanitizer and when you come back bring a small amount of water with you in a dish or a glass.
We use holy water today for several things. It is often used at the entrance of churches, for people to dip their fingers in and make the sign of the cross as they enter the worship space.
In some churches, it is placed in the center of the room and people will dip their fingers in and cross themselves before receiving communion. It is used on days when we renew our baptismal vows, to remind us in our bodies, of our own baptisms. Living water, holy water, is a reminder that we are claimed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
Take a moment, if your hands are clean, and dip your fingers in your water. Begin by touching your forehead, then your heart, one shoulder, then the other, and back to your heart again.
Especially in a time in which we can’t physically gather and a time in which we are not supposed to touch, or hug, or be too near one another, we can perform this ancient rite and ground ourselves in our bodies by reminding ourselves of our baptisms.
Biblical scholar Kathryn Schifferdecker, of Luther Seminary eloquently captures what this living water is and what it does in our lives. She says: “here’s the thing: The living water that is Christ’s life in us, that living water is not just for the joyful times; it is also and especially for the hard times and the hard places in our lives, the times when we are dealing with depression or bitter disappointment or grief or guilt. Philip Yancey puts it this way: “Grace, like water, flows downward... No matter how low we sink, grace flows to that lowest part.” Grace, the living water that Christ offers, flows to the lowest point. What a profound insight.”
This living water which Christ brings flows to the lowest points in our lives, the places where we are lonely, or anxious, or afraid, and brings us back to ourselves, back to the Holy Spirit claiming us. This living water cannot take away our fears, but it can help us to reframe our response to the fears.
That’s what happened for the woman at the well that day in the heat of the sun. We don’t know much about her, her struggles or difficult decisions, or even her name. But I imagine her life wasn’t easy and the fact that she was at the well in the middle of the day instead of at dawn or dusk with the other women lets us know that she was either social distancing or shunned by her peers.
Jesus arrives on the scene and she is unexpectedly known and loved through him. As Schifferdecker writes, “this Living Water that he offers becomes in her a spring of water that overflows into her own life and even into the lives of her neighbors. “Come and see!” she says to them. She is an evangelist, one of the first: Come and see!
What if we were to become evangelists of the Living Water in these days of social distancing and isolation? Come and see! We still have: going for long walks and phone calls and FaceTime. Come and see! We still have: reading, music, singing, and laughter. Come and see! We still have hope and Christ who sustains us. This living water cannot take away our fears, but it can help us to reframe our response to the fears.
Are you wondering what happened all those years ago with my child who had the terrible nightmares? Well, when I returned home, I learned that she was still suffering from those intense nightmares and fears about going to sleep. So, we read this story of the woman at the well from our children’s Bible at bedtime. I filled the aspergillum with “living water” and we sprinkled it around her bed. We talked about how the world will always have things in it that are frightening, and we can’t get rid of them completely. And we talked about how, we can control how we respond to our fears.
We can be so fearful that we stop living and spread our fear to others, OR we can acknowledge the frightening things that exist in the world and devise a plan to cope with them. For several weeks, each night at bedtime, we prayed. We prayed for the bad dreams to stay away. And, we talked about what to do when they came. We came up with a simple prayer that could be said in the middle of the night, asking Jesus to be there and offer comfort and take away the fear.
And, I filled that aspergillum with “living water” from the bathroom sink. With a flashlight, the aspergillum filled with living water, and a prayer on her lips, my child didn’t sleep soundly, but she was able to manage her fears. When I went in each morning to check on her, I would find the aspergillum empty, the flashlight often on, a damp pillow, and a child sleeping soundly.
Where is the low point in your life right now? Is it fear or loneliness? Is it the fear of losing your job or retirement or even your home? Where is the place where you are stuck in grief or guilt or anger or pain? Once more, dip your fingers into that water and mark yourself with the sign of the cross. Take a deep breath and remember your true and deepest identity.
Know that you are named and claimed as beloved children of God in the living waters of baptism. Let those living waters flow all the way down to the lowest point, wherever your pain or fear resides, and allow the living water to heal and renew. Let it bring you to life again.
A Deeper Family by Kathryn Schifferdecker on Working Preacher website.