Good teachers and good spiritual teachers highly value the experience of their disciples. They will often return to these experiences as they journey together, as a way of making things clearer. Good spiritual teachers often invite their disciples to begin to recognise patterns in their experience. Or, to put it another way, to map the sequence of their growth in understanding.
For example, St Paul, in his letter to the infant church in Rome (Romans 5,3-5) proposes a sequence that begins with suffering. Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the Love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Mother Theresa of Albania often handed out a business card with this information: The fruit of SILENCE is prayer. The fruit of PRAYER is faith. The fruit of FAITH is love. The fruit of LOVE is Service. The fruit of SERVICE is Peace.
Sometimes the patterns of our experience and what these have taught us can be easily grasped. When this happens, their wisdom is clear. At other times, the patterns of our experience and what these have taught us is less clear. It is harder to 'get it' or to put Wisdom into action.
This week’s Parable of the Woman at The Well is one of these patterns. It might go like this:
- the one who hears the voice of the bridegroom greatly rejoices
- bringing the bridegroom children
- that one disappears into the fullness of joy.
Notice this great woman's journey as she develops her
understanding of Jesus which takes her past his Jewishness, past his prophetic status, past his role as messiah, finally arriving at the realisation that He is the 'l Am' or God made visible. When she grasps this, she is filled with the love she has always been looking for. Her joy is complete. She has found the Bridegroom.
The first joy is found in hearing the voice of the bridegroom, the wedding and the wedding night. Now it matures into a fuller joy when the marriage becomes fruitful with children. The first joy becomes the impetus for mission. She moves out, attracting people to the voice she has heard. She presents these 'children' to her true husband, so that they too might experience the gift of God.
Now she moves into deep waters. If the experience is true, she must not claim permanent status as a messenger. Her 'children' tell her that she is no longer needed. Now that they have seen for themselves, no other intermediary is required. If she is mature enough, she will be happy that, like the Baptist, He must increase while they decrease. But they aren't having to be dragged from centre stage. Their leaving is gracious and, as they decrease, their joy increases!
So, what is going on here? When we see clearly the gift of God, there is a 'knowing' that enables us to grasp more fully the work of the Holy Spirit. Strangely the gift arrives as 'living water' which can never be grasped. Nor can we ever use it to promote ourselves or our ego. Whoever tries to seize the Spirit watches it move elsewhere. By disappearing, we have permanent access to the fountain. I think this is what the woman at the well realised. I hope that one day we will too