Anyone who has seriously taken theatre acting classes knows that the text of most plays does not contain a detailed background story on the character you are about to portray.
You study the lines you are to read/speak, the actions, the inter-action with other characters and develop our own background of the character which you keep within you as you act on stage.
Ever since I began Mass preparation for this 3rd Sunday of Lent, with the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, I have posed to my heart, mind, imagination, as really wanting to know her, the simple question: Who is she?
The more I have come to know her the more I have come to understand she is me – perhaps you too.
The more I have ‘learned’ about her, the greater the urgency within me to approach the well, to meet the man sitting there.
The longer I linger with Him at the well, paradoxically, the more, it seems, He wants me to not so much ‘take’ His place as be myself ‘in’ Him as place for others.
So who is she to me and how then is she me?
When I was a boy growing up in the last years of, and the years immediately after WWII, I lived in a poor neighbourhood where there were many widows – older ones from WWI, younger ones of WWII, and some women who simply had been abandoned.
There were of course married women with children besides the widows, some of whom had children, and there were single women many of whom, as munitions production and other direct war work slowed down returned to offices or department stores or what is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession.
So I know all those women of my childhood, and the women of my youth, university and working days, women who worked or taught in the seminary, women from the various parishes I was assigned to, women who come to the soup kitchen – yes somehow each of these women, my beloved sisters in Christ, somehow are part of the answer to: who is she?
Clearly in her deep personal history as a child and young girl events unfolded, things happened which disordered her personality so that her ability to form covenant with a man eludes her – likewise then she is not perceived by the other women as someone they wish to be close to. She is not part of the unique communal experience of women working, moving, walking to the well as a group inter-connected, chatting, empathizing with one another, affirming and encouraging one another, looking out for one another.
The other women both fear and disdain her – yet there is goodness about her.
She can be counted on because no matter how they treat her, if any of the other women is ill, she is there to serve; if any of the other women need help hauling the water, working the fields, tending the children she is always there.
True her unspoken motive is this desperate need for acceptance, to be part of, and she well knows that will never happen, that once she has fulfilled the need which had them allow her to approach she will be cast aside again, for she is obviously too needy – well just look at all the men she goes with!
How then is she me?
My covenant relationship is with Jesus, as a priest – but I am a human being just like my sister at the well and like her I have a back-story, the scars/wounds of which, to be honest about it, are not yet completely healed – and so, for example, when I am under stress I am extremely needy and seek affirmation and acceptance.
The trouble with following my outcast and lonely sister in the quest for water at the well is we end up finding a man is sitting there, a man whom at first we do not recognize and expect from him more of the pain we have grown used to even, while deep in our beings, because there is something about him different from others, the old yearning for affirmation, to be loved really, aches beyond belief!
Of course he starts off by asking to be taken care of.
Well we’re used to that.
Everyone accepts us while do as they ask.
But my sister, this time, perhaps has just had enough, or the sum pain of her life has finally started to overflow the brim of her being, because her reaction and words are not of the desperate-to-be-given-a crumb of acceptance, normally her response, but a challenge, a ‘How dare you’ barely couched in defining the prevailing social mores.
He is different.
He does not respond in kind.
This is not what she is/I am, used to.
He speaks tenderly, offers gift – a gift which contains within all the healing, all the dignity, all the affirmation, all the love ever yearned for!
I look at my sister, so weighed down with so much, her wounded heart so heavy she is as one who moves bent over, yet as He speaks she is transformed before my eyes and quiet dignity, a glow of joy, a straightness of being, a lightness of heart take hold.
Then she is gone!
She has run to where she came from, to speak about the One whom she has met.
Now, it is just He and I.
He invites me to sit with Him, to ask Him, the question: Who is she?
His answer is telling, but not as I expect, for He tells me nothing about her, nor really about me, but about everyone else!
He tells without words, shows really, countless people!
Some are intimately close to me heart and He shows me how much of her is in them – how blind I have been to that.
He shows me others whom I know but am not close to. People I meet on the bus or in the neighbourhood or the soup kitchen or see in news reports about Japan or Libya or……“She” is everywhere!
I get it – well am starting to get it.
True Jesus revealed His thirst first but that disappears quickly, His apparent thirst, because His real thirst is for her, His daughter, a soul in need of His gift.
Ah, Jesus – I am so in bondage to my own thirstiness I have forgotten my prime thirst should be for You, yes – but should be Yours for others too!
That is why You have me sitting here, showing me I will only be slaked if I forget my need and thirst to satisfy the need which is hers/others/Yours.
Now I understand why You have shown me she is present in everyone.