A Well

Ah, but what if a story isn’t there. I wake up distracted, unfocused, my mind wandering about to the tasks of the day, of yesterday, of this month. Which isn’t helped by then turning to the internet to wander around Facebook or a couple of blogs I follow, or pick up on the news of the day. My distraction becomes amplified through the compiled distractions of others, which then stirs the frenzy inside me even more, adding more and more topics to consider, on most of which my considerations don’t have any impact or worth.

There’s the benefit, to be sure, of cutting off from this technologized world, from insisting on separating from the particular franticness of our era. But then we might miss something. And I’m not just talking about missing something that is yet another distraction we don’t need. There really is expression and interaction online in which people, in various ways and mostly indirectly, are trying to be compelling to others, to express their identity, and many of these people need a good word.

I think of the woman at the well.

Wells were, I suppose, a bit like the Facebook of their era. Or maybe that’s the city gate. Doesn’t really matter since the analogy isn’t particularly the point. The point is that in a gathering place we find people with all kinds of backgrounds and motives and conflicts and priorities. In a gathering place we enter into the maelstrom of human interactions with all their various highs and lows.

We find people we like. We find people who really piss us off. We encounter old friends and new friends and people who want to be our friends but who we don’t want to be their friends. We strut about in our tasks, expressing our identity, as they are, in how we display ourselves and in the attempts at wit or insight or just plain constant chatter that we hope will somehow make a mark on another.

The woman at the well, as I think about it, wasn’t there for the community but she was out there in public. We don’t really know anything about her other than what the page tells us. We make all kinds of assumptions about the tiny status updates that Jesus gave regarding her, but this hides as much as it reveals, even though we’re more than happy to fill in the gaps with our own goals or purposes. Like is so often the case, how we fill in the gaps of what Scripture doesn’t say reveals more about us than about the issues in the text.

We’re given this picture, this profile of the woman that leaves a lot of details out. She had five husbands and is living with a man who isn’t her husband. She’s there in the middle of the day, rather than in the early morning. Now those are two juicy items for gossip! Was she a bit of a whore, marrying around one after another?

If she was, she must have been an outcast, a pariah in her community, talked about by the other ladies. Well, then that fills in the gap why she’s there in the middle of the day. She didn’t want to be looked upon with judging eyes, or hear the whispers behind her back. She must have felt judged so she avoided community, expressing herself in isolation. Going to the well alone. Just like so many of us experience…

Only the passage doesn’t say any of that. We fill in the gaps with our own interpreted experiences. We enter into the frenzy of the woman’s story, gossiping to each other about what she must have been like.

All we know about her is what the text says. And it says very little. It didn’t seem to have any interest in telling us she was an outcast, or why she was there in the middle of the day or that she felt the burden of societal disapproval.

She’s a woman at the well, with a story of her own, but a story whose details are, frustratingly, left out.

She was still in need of a good word. And Jesus gave it. You need living water. Not because she was so destitute or desperate, we find, because she was a woman at the well. She wanted such water not because she overwhelmed with her personal story, but because it would save her from having to walk to the well every day.

The Bible gives this basic story and we make it all so much more complicated, blurring the message with our own goals, like we’re there to help Jesus fill out his, apparently emaciated, message. We become like an annoying married couple, one trying to tell a story while the other interrupts with what they think are necessary helpful details.

But the story, in Scripture, has its own points. And they’re pretty simple.

Which makes me think that so much of my own perceptions of online frenzy aren’t really something outside of me at all, like I am imposed upon. Rather, it’s a frenzy I bring and then read into what I see online. I wonder how I, like Jesus, like John in his writing, can find a way of bringing peace and focus into what really isn’t all that complicated at all, unless I make it so.

But, like wells, this is a deep subject, and now I need to get to my tasks for the day.

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