Meditation on the Well of Living Water
A sermon-meditation on John 4:5-42.
[Since this sermon is primarily a guided meditation, it is recommended to listen to the audio recording, rather than simple reading it. Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash.]
So, there is A LOT to the story that we just heard.
There are the ethnic-tension dynamics that draw our attention to the ways that Jesus subverts boundaries and rejects expectations about who is in and who is out.
There are gender dynamics that demonstrate Jesus’s willingness to engage with a woman as an equal in theological conversation, even when he closest friends cannot imagine such a possibility.
There are issues of trust and what does and does not get openly communicated… between Jesus and the woman, and Jesus and his disciples, and the woman and the people of the town.
There is a fraught history of moralistic judgment from centuries of preachers about what Jesus and the woman are talking about when they talk about her husbands.
But I think the most important thing about this story is the invitation: Come and See.
This simple, three-word phrase is a bit of a thesis statement for John’s gospel.
We first hear it on the lips of Jesus when the disciples of John ask him where he is staying, and he invites them to come and see as an invitation to follow him (John 1:39).
We hear it soon after when Philip repeats the invitation to Nathaniel after the second man expresses skepticism about Jesus (John 1:45).
We will hear it later in the story when Jesus asks where the body of his friend Lazarus has been laid (John 11:34).
And, we hear it here: from the mouth of the foreign woman who has experienced something she did not expect and knows the only way to explain it to her neighbors is for them to see for themselves.
Throughout John’s gospel the refrain of come and see is an invitation to push past one’s comfort zone, to step beyond what is safe and familiar, and to open oneself up for God to do a new thing.
So I want us to accept that invitation today… to do something a little out of the ordinary with this time of responding to God’s Word.
Rather than preaching to you about this story, I want to call you into it… or, rather, I want to call you into your own unexpected experience at the well.
I am going to take the next 10 minutes or so to lead us through a meditation inspired by this story, but not tethered to it.
We will use the metaphor of the well, and Jesus’s promise of living water to see what new wisdom God wants each of us to come and see. It might feel a little unfamiliar… but that’s the point of the invitation… to lean into a new way of seeing what God might have for you today.
* * *
To begin, I invite you to find a place of rest within your body. Close your eyes and adjust your posture so that you can be still without effort and relax into your breath.
Begin to become aware of your breathing. Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Do not judge your breath, just notice it. Notice how it is part of you – how your body cooperates in this basic rhythm of your life.
Now, begin to deepen your breathing. Consciously pull the air down into your abdomen, hold it for a moment, then slowly release it back into the world. Feel how this breath connects you to everything around you.
Breath in… and out… in…. and out… Filling… and releasing… rocked by the rhythm of your breath.
And now, let your breath bring you to the edge of the well of living water: the dark hole that opens into the hidden place you know is there, somewhere beneath the surface.
The opening of the well is a crack in the landscape of your life that reveals the truth of something running underneath the surface. Some deep life force that you know you need, but that – perhaps – also feels dangerous, because it is not something you can control.
Perhaps, you have been unwilling to come here accompanied by others. Unwilling to approach this gap in your protection when anyone else might see inside… but now you notice the way that the air you breath moves unhaltingly down into the dark hole and back again.
The line of division that seems so clear is erased. The air knows no barrier. Your breath feels no fear.
Even though the well is frightening. The hidden depths are both repelling and fascinating: a tunnel into a source that cannot be seen.
You are conscious of the danger of falling, of losing the stability and knowability of life at the surface, where the sun may burn you but it also helps you see where you are. The darkness of the well holds a mystery that hides from the light of the sun; you cannot see your way.
But your breath is not afraid to dive into the depths, and it returns to you with the cool wetness of the chill, deep air inside the well. Your breath can be your guide.
So, let your breath descend, down into the depths. Feel it slip beyond the tight control of contracting and expanding lungs, away also from the buffeting currents of wind at the surface of your life. Feel it move down into the safe, soft, still darkness of the well.
Your breath is your soul, the spirit-movement that nourishes and connects you. Your breath knows that it is safe to dive beneath the surface, to move down into the hidden depths of the well that God placed here to bring you life.
Because the well is where the water is. The sweet, dark, sparkling, powerful water that swells up in the depths of you. Witnessing to a thirst that sunlight cannot satisfy.
You were made to thirst. To be pulled to the well where your spirit can dive down into the darkness and feel the welcoming water greet your soul.
This thirst can sometimes feel like a burden; like a chore that pulls you back to this well you do not want to plumb; like a source of unwanted need.
You would rather be self-sufficient and satisfied on the surface. Able to meet all your own needs. Safe from the longing for the mysteries hidden in the dark depths of the well.
But your breath knows differently. It knows you are never separate. Never isolated. Never sufficient on your own. Your breath is always mixing with the world around you, giving and receiving, and your soul-breath delights to dive into the cool darkness of the well to draw up new, refreshing mist to share.
Your soul recognizes God’s gift. The gift of thirst for living water…. The gift of the well that lets you into the depths… the gift of the One who can give you living water… like a spring… that bubbles up to eternal life.
The well is your way in… your evidence that the water is there, in the depths, in the darkness, eternally available.
Your thirst can be satisfied. Your longing is a gift. It draws you here… here to this moment of seeking, to this moment of recognizing: the well will always be here for you.
God put it here where you can always find it, your access to the depths of your soul, here living water flows. The living water of the One who loves with you a love that is deeper than the hidden springs of the deepest mountain stream.
As we move into a time of quiet meditation, while Ben plays softly for us, bring your thirst to this well and drink… drink deeply of the living water flowing in the depths of your soul.
[time for silence]
Whenever you need it, you can return to the well to drink deeply of this water… this water that has become in you a spring bubbling up to eternal life.
Sometimes you might forget. You might look up at the hot sun and feel caught up on the stark surface… you might lose your sense of depth, and feel like you are dried out and burned up… but the spring will never run dry… and your need for it will remind you and will always bring you back… here… to the source of your life.
As your breath moves back up, out of the deep, safe, darkness of the well, it brings with it the refreshing mist that strokes your face with a loving caress.
You have been blessed by the water. You carry it back with you… to a thirsty world… Your soul is a spring of living water… and with each breath you release this gift, to touch the face of others who feel dry, and parched, and thirsty… You can share this spring-fed gift, knowing that it will not run dry.
With each breath… in… and out… in… and out… you are a blessing.
Thanks be to God.