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Coming to the Well – The Wax and Wane of the Spiritual Life

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Throughout the past few months the story of the woman at the well in John 4 has been tugging at me; and so last night I finally took the time to look it up and read it. I’m pretty familiar with the story, and even before I glanced over the passage, the image of Christ conversing with this woman was comforting.

The woman at the well is a Samaritan and in those times Jews did not interact with Samaritans. The Jewish people even went out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria when they were traveling. So, when Jesus’ disciples found him speaking with the woman their reaction was, “Uh, what are you doing?”. In addition, the woman has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus relates His knowledge of her life to her, and she responds, “I see you are a prophet”.

The reason I am drawn to this passage is because I am the woman at the well. No, I haven’t had five husbands, but I’ve found myself standing by the well on several occasions with my brokenness made bare in the reflection of the water. Like her, I have knowledge of my faith, but when it comes to practicing it… eh, pretty often I fall short. So, I come to the well again and again to receive this “living water” that I have allowed myself to run dry of.

It’s the same experience that St. John Paul the Great spoke about in his short poem “Song of the Brightness of Water”, which he penned before he was Pope.

From this depth-I came only to draw water
in a jug-so long ago, this brightness
still clings to my eyes-the perception I found,
and so much empty space, my own
reflected in the well.

Yet it is good. I can never take all of you
into me. Stay then as a mirror in the well.
Leaves and flowers remain, and each astonished gaze
brings them down
to my eyes transfixed more by light
Than by sorrow.

-St. Pope John Paul II, 1950

I’m sure we all can relate to it’s profound imagery:

We are outside the well (yet again, because we’ve been here before) staring down at the water. Looking in, we can see our “depth”, how far we are from Christ and all that He is calling us to be; His perfect plan for our lives. It’s the brightness of this experience (a revelation) that clings to our eyes each time we peer into the well. And when our soul is thirsting, it’s the memory of that brightness which we found in the well that births a renewed hope within us.

I don’t know if this is precisely St. John Paul’s meaning behind the poem, but it’s what I took away from it.

Another thing to note is how Jesus spoke to the woman. He didn’t belittle her for her sins, but He did make her aware that He knew them. He knows my sins too and this also is a comfort to me.

Just like the woman has returned to the well because her jug has run dry, we too return to the well of “living water” because our spiritual resources have  been depleted. And this is what He has to say to us…

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4: 21-24

We “can’t take all of [Him] into” us as St. John Paul II said, but what are the little gems he wants us to pluck from the water and polish? The little virtues that we have exchanged for sin which is preventing us from worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth? He doesn’t want empty sacrifices like those of the pharisees. He wants hearts on fire with love for Him, and in order to achieve that we need to remove the little barriers. Christ said in Luke 16:10, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.”

In closing, I’m reminded of a quote by Nelson Mandela: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”

May God show us the little sins that He wishes to wash away from our souls so that He can fill our hearts with the fire of His Holy Spirit to make us His modern day saints.


Song of the Brightness of Water// St. John Paul II: Read more at

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