Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection
Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM
April 4, 2011
realizes that patience can overcome resistance. The text says
that “his divine interior speaks mysteriously to her interior,
touching her with his grace and drawing her to himself.” (p. 31)
What this suggests is that there are varying levels of
interaction going on in the encounter.
This is to be expected.
A conversation has to
start someplace. We
usually begin on a level of social commonplaces. “How are you?”
“I am fine, thank you.” I may not be fine at all, but those are
the words that come out of my mouth.
If my speaking partner is
really interested in me and can get beyond the social amenities,
my responses may become more personal, and more interior.
Jesus is, of course, focused on the inner disposition of the
woman at the well.
He overlooks her surprise at a Jew’s speaking to a Samaritan.
He waits for the deeper
response to his offer to give her living water.
His belief in the hidden
action of grace enables him to trust that the communication
between the two transcends the words they are exchanging.
The words he has spoken to the woman are grace-filled words.
Yet, our response to
grace may not be immediate. Subtle
pride causes the woman initially to resist the offer of the
stranger. But then,
because grace awakens the spirit within her, the woman begins to
respond from a deeper place. Intuitively
she senses that the stranger must be speaking about the promised
messiah. The inner grace
of the words of Jesus has evoked a spirit-response in the woman:
“Simply, what he had said and the way he had said it brought the
messiah to her mind.” (p. 89)
There is something miraculous about grace-filled words. Van Kaam
tells us that “the word of Jesus is so potent that no person who
is well-disposed can resist its gentle power. Where the word of
Jesus meets a humble heart its impact is astounding.” (p. 119)
The directive that flows
from this is meant to inspire the discourse of all followers of
Christ. Namely, we
should desire to be bearers of grace in all the words we speak.
The directive to imitate the gracious speaking of our Lord can
perhaps be integrated with the call to be generous and gentle.
The directive is thus
understood as a call to generous and gentle speech.
This call is at the very
heart of the Christian message, calling us to share in Jesus’
mission to draw all people to himself.
What it means to become gentle and generous in our speech is
described by van Kaam in the chapter on “The Gift of Faith”
If we use not
our own words but allow him to speak through us, we may witness
the same miracle in listeners of good will, ready to surrender
to any grace that comes their way. But it is not easy to speak
the pure words of Jesus. We are inclined to say a lot of things
that please our vanity, show our cleverness, and bind the
admiration of people to us and not to him. It takes a lifetime
to purify our speech from selfishness, to allow him alone to be
present in our language of faith.
(p . 119)
like humility, allows us to forget about ourselves so that we
can rest our attention on God.
As long as we are caught up in ourselves, in our projects
and personal concerns, we cannot freely devote ourselves to what
matters most: generously serving God in this moment of time.
Similarly, my words
cannot be gentle and generous if they are the result only of my
efforts and calculation.
To be effective witnesses of God’s love and presence, my
words must be surrounded and permeated by the transcendent
silence of God. The words
I speak from this region of my contact with God must first be
received in prayerful silence and graceful attunement to the
will of God. Then, in the
act of speaking, the inner grace of the words will touch the
hearts of those who are disposed to hearken to the spiritual
reality evoked by the living word.
The miracle of grace-filled speech is an event for which our
hearts long. We see this
in the story of the woman at the well.
Here we see a woman who
has sought fulfillment in relationships with many men.
Yet, when she hears the
words of Jesus she comes alive on the level of her deepest
longings. Her desire for
God, evoked by the words of Jesus, is just what is needed to
help the woman to reform her life.
Her heart senses that
these words are filled with the promise of a fulfillment
transcending all other pleasures she has known.
What is the practical result of such an encounter?
What happens to us when we finally hear Jesus speaking in
our lives? We are
filled with gratitude, for receiving grace implies that we
receive Jesus as well. This
is the true meaning of self-fulfillment in Christian terms:
that is, to be filled with Jesus in accordance with who we most
deeply are. (p. 51) God has created us in His image, and our
fulfillment lies in the full expression of our identity in
Christ. Ultimately, we do
not create our identity. Our
spiritual identity is bestowed upon us as a gift from God.
We simply receive the
gift. The more
simple, trusting, and relaxed we are, the more able we are to
cooperate with God in giving birth to our true selves.
The emergence of the true self is an event of
recognition of her deepest identity in the Lord leads the woman
to go out of herself in a completely new way.
She is now a witness for
the Lord, a missionary of his love.
What this means more
precisely is that she can now express a spiritual dimension of
her personality that previously lay dormant, waiting to be
What form will this expression take?
Van Kaam suggests that
the virtue of religion is a virtue of proclaiming, praising, and
thanking the limitless bounty of God’s beauty, truth and
goodness. (p. 83) This
worshipful attitude is at the root of our spiritual life and is
meant to flow over into our daily 1ife.
When Jesus has moved us in the core of our being, our
outward expression will reflect our inner attitude of worshipful
surrender to his presence. The radiance of our interiority will
flow over into all of the dimensions of the self. (p. 84)
be concluded in next week’s reflection)