As an educator, my summers often begin with a bit of malaise if not outright melancholy. While my information is anecdotal, I do know of other educators who have weathered through similar spells at the start of summer. All this may come as a surprise to lay people who often envy what lies ahead for us…summer vacation. However, what most people do not know is the physical, mental, and emotional rigor it takes to get there. Most teachers walk through the final weeks of school with grace, muster, and only the occasional private meltdown. Yet, it is no wonder that teachers find themselves exhausted, drained, or sometimes bewilderingly sad just as summer begins. This year proved no exception for me.
At first, I blamed my disgruntled mood on the weather. The sun and rain seemed to battle back and forth all weekend. It made it impossible to plan a hike or outing. I found myself stuck in the house without much to do. I cleaned off the porch in the morning, but spent the afternoon pouting and mindlessly searching Etsy for something cheerful to buy. Tired and bleary eyed from staring at my phone, I joined my husband on the front porch. He was taking a break from yard work. Much to my dismay, he showed little interest in my Etsy finds…so I announced in a huff that I was going for a walk ALONE.
As I headed off to the overlook at the end of our road, my tears started to flow. All my worries, inadequacies, and failings flowed down my cheeks in a stream of misery. When I reached the end of the road, I wandered over to a small stone table meant for a happy picnic, but today it was a perfect spot to plop my tearful self. Not wanting to encounter any snakes, I sat cross-legged on the tabletop, and waited for the tears to subside. As I dried my eyes on my shirt sleeve, I found myself wishing for some sign, some solace, or some word from a higher power. However, no lightning bolt struck nor was a there a voice from on high. So, I picked up my phone and typed in the word, “Christ” hoping for Google’s spiritual insights. What popped up was a Patheos site…the Internet platform that Nadia Bolz-Weber uses for her blog, “The Sarcastic Lutheran.” I smiled unexpectedly and wondered if her in-your-face-theology might cheer me up. I found just what I needed in her sermon on the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
I have always loved the Gospel stories in which Jesus encounters women and this particular scripture is no exception. The remarkable fact that Jesus even spoke to her…not only a woman but a lowly Samaritan is never lost on me. However, I always focused on what Jesus did and said. I never considered the woman’s perspective. The scripture clearly tells us that this woman was no saint…she had 5 husbands and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. Yet, knowing what we know about society at the time it is hard to pin all the blame on her. This particular woman could have been passed from one man to another through no fault of her own or maybe not. What Bolz-Weber asks us to see is her woundedness…
“All I know is that no matter if the wound was self-inflicted or inflicted by others or some combination of the two, she had a wound. Like we all do.”
Ultimately, it was her “wound” that made her avoid others. She deliberately went to the well midday when other women would not be there. Of course this didn’t work out as Bolz-Weber explains…
I imagine her lost in her thoughts, the heat of the noon sun pressing down on her, sweat stinging her eyes as she makes out a figure sitting at the well and she takes a deep breath, braces herself, and makes sure to not make eye contact which doesn’t matter because for some reason he starts talking to her.
It is in the give and take of conversation that Jesus leads the woman to understand what he means by living water. He starts with the concrete but with questions and guidance leads her to an understanding of the metaphor he wants to impart…that the living water he offers will heal and replenish her despite a tainted past. Bolz-Weber continues…
The Living water offered by Jesus Christ finds your lowest point. It flows to your original wound. The thing that you spend so much energy trying to heal through all the insufficient ways – relationships, religion, success, more graduate degrees, more therapy, working out, trying to get your parents to love you more. There are a million ways we try to use substitutes for God to try and make sure our damage is not seen.
Jesus’ open invitation introduces the woman to his crazy, nonsensical theology in which scarcity is abundance; giving is receiving; poverty is wealth; forgiveness is freedom; and ultimately death is resurrection. She is so entranced with his message that she leaves her jar at the well and rushes off to spread the Good News.
There on that stone table, I was reminded of my own wounds. Hadn’t I carried them up the road in tears just a few moments ago? I knew then that I was being asked to set them aside and leave them behind like the water jar at the well. I felt like a child who had stumbled and fallen, but a loving parent was lifting me up, dusting me off, and urging me to try again. As I headed back to the house, I felt lighter…probably because I had left a few things behind. ~c.h.