Spiritual Disciplines, Repentance

Do you remember the woman at the well? The one who came in the heat of the day to avoid conversation with other women? The one who had lived with multiple men and had earned a reputation as a that woman? The one who lived outside of her culture's definition of good enough? The one who met a man there, one who changed everything?

A different kind of man. Not one who wanted her, or wanted to use her. Not one who refused to talk to her, clearly despising who she was. Not one who worried about social rules or the glaring sun beating down on his travel weary body.

He was there for her, you know. He went out of his way to be there when she came for her water. He knew she would be there and it was important for her to encounter him.

She was stuck. She had made decisions, maybe they had even been made for her, and now here she was. She lived on the wrong side of society, in Samaria. She had grown up in a world that had defined her people as second place. She had lived a hard life, one filled with wounds and desperation. Her heart had grown hard. She told herself that she didn't need anyone to approve of her. Whose business was she anyway? She had worked hard to stay alive and that had to count for something. It was easier to just avoid their judging looks, their whispers and disapproval. And she didn't mind the heat so much - it was softer than rejection. So here she was, the hopeless woman at the well.

And there he was. He was clearly a stranger, a Jew, leaning against the well, watching for something... watching her. She was used to being stared at - she felt her heart stiffen as she got closer. He was alone and covered in dust. She looked at the ground as she reached the well, unnerved by the strength of his presence. And then he spoke to her. He asked her for water. Startled she drew her eyes to his face. "How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"

Oddly he didn't look away, he didn't even lean away from her. His eyes caught hers and then he offered her water. He talked about living water; water that would leave her satisfied, never thirsty again. He talked about endless life and her soul lurched against her chest. She couldn't help herself - with tears hanging from the cliffs of her eyelashes she cried out, "Sir, give me this water so I won't ever get thirsty, won't ever have to come back to this well again!" 

He looked straight into her eyes, knowing her heart, she could sense it. He said, "Go get your husband and then come back." Her stomach fell. Her husband. "Which one?" she thought bitterly. Her grief flooded to the surface and she didn't feel so hard anymore. She didn't even want to defend herself this time. She thought of the women who had scorned her, the loneliness that consumed her endless days. She thought of the men who sought her in secret, but ignored her in public. She felt the great weight of a life sadly lived and she didn't want to hide her brokenness anymore. This man, who had lifted her heart in hope, would certainly let it crash again once he knew. But she couldn't hide anymore. Not for one more minute. "I have no husband" she whispered, the social shame of her own truth spilling out onto the dirt at his feet.

"You've had five husbands, and the man you're living with now isn't even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough."

Just a statement, a knowing, a clearing away of the narrative she was building in her own mind.

She stood exposed and, for a moment she flared. She challenged him. She dared him to just come out with it. He was a Jew. She was a Samaritan. She left the door wide open for him to tell her what everyone else had already told her. She had done everything wrong. She had failed at birth and was left to live a fragmented life.

He didn't.

Then his friends came, their faces flooded with the look she knew so well. She left her water jug and went back to town, stumbling over the encounter she had just had. Who was he? What had he offered her? Endless life. Water that would never run dry. He had looked into her heart and had spoken her deepest shame like it was nothing. And why had he been there, alone, like he was waiting for her? Why did he seem so familiar, like she had known him all along?

Something had shifted in her. She felt different. Exposed, but lighter. She didn't feel so afraid. She didn't feel so overlooked. He hadn't flinched when he had laid her life bare. Like he had known it all along and was unoffended. She couldn't keep it in - her heart was bubbling over. Her mind was spinning.

He had to be the one.

So she told everyone she saw. Some were startled that she was speaking to them, but most were curious. The came to him too; found him at the well. Thirsty souls drank from his eternal spring and she saw it then. They were all broken. Every single one of them.

That day was a day of turning. Laid bare before before the man from Galilee. Sought out and exposed. And still he offered her a new life - not in spite of her wandering, but in the midst of it. Later she would hear that he claimed to be The Way. She knew what that meant. He was the way through disaster. He was the way through loneliness and hopelessness. He was the way that had opened wide before a broken woman from Samaria.

This is repentance, friends. T'shuvah. The returning to the well, meeting The Divine in the heat of your struggle. Repentance is a turning, a leaning in. Your heart is exposed and you are faced with His way, or your old, splintered way. It will cost you to repent. You will lose your walls, your self protective towers. You will have to come to an honest space, and then you will have to leave your old way there, at the well.

In the practice of repentance we come every day. We spend time alone with Them - the mysterious existence of Love - uncovered and known. We drink of Their living water and then we carry our freedom away with us. We don't hide it - we spread it.

Repentance is an act of acceptance and humility that changes the course of our lives.

So come to the well, today. The invitation is never withdrawn.

You will always find him leaning there, covered in the dust of his journey to get to you.

*Have you experienced the grace of God in repentance? Where did he find you?

*September 2013