Tag Archives: Book of John

Going to the well

I was rereading a part of the Book of John this morning about when Jesus, having been walking all day, sits by the edge of a well and asks a woman for some water. Now, the woman is a Samaritan and they don’t generally interact with Jews. Add to that that in those days, women didn’t just chat with men casually. Like, ever. So when Jesus tells her to go get her husband, and she admits she has no husband, he tells her, “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now isn’t yours.”

Now, I heard this story originally as a folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The song makes it sound like the woman is, to put it lightly, loose. There’s a bit of slut-shaming in the song. As I read the story now, it occurs to me that a woman can have five husbands if she outlives four. In those days, a woman’s worth was in her marital status and her ability to have children. What if the only reason she’s around is because she didn’t die in childbirth? What if some of those husbands divorced her thinking she was barren? The story doesn’t really say why she’s been married so many times. However, if she lost all those husbands through no fault of her own, even if her society told her it was her fault, then our Samaritan sister has been through some tough times. If she’s living with a husband that isn’t hers (maybe it’s her brother or her father) then she’s probably a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no social standing.

And she is willing to see the possibility that this strange man, who she probably shouldn’t be talking to, might be on to something. Maybe he sounds arrogant to her. Maybe he looks ridiculous (remember he’s just a stranger who’s been walking in the desert all day). I can relate to her. I’ve been to lots of retreats and workshops that promised me “living water” in the form of five simple principles or one great secret or a dozen rules. I have all the books. I’ve done lots of hours of studying. Heck, I have two master’s degrees and the student loans to prove it. I look at the time and money and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I still feel, sometimes, like that unwanted, unloved Samaritan who is just trying to find her place in the world.

If your Buddha-nature spoke up right now and promised you living water, promised you peace and joy, would you have the strength to try one more time? Would you be willing to try someone who seems like an unlikely guru? I went to lots of professionals and certificated teachers before I found the ones who told me my teacher is my own heart. Trusting that unlikely teacher has made all the difference.